Released by: Napalm Records
Release Date: January 29, 2015
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Georg Neuhauser – Vocals
Cris Hermsdörfer – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Fabio D’Amore – Bass, Backing Vocals
Andreas Schipflinger – Drums, Backing Vocals
1. Codex Atlanticus
2. Follow Me
3. Sprouts of Terror
6. My Final Chapter
7. Caught in a Myth
8. Fate of Light
9. The Perfect Woman
10. Spirit in the Flesh
11. The Order
The year 2016 is off to a strong start, with January featuring new releases from some of my favorite bands like Avantasia, Rhapsody of Fire and of course Dream Theater. However, the album I was most excited for going into the year was not one of those but Codex Atlanticus, the fifth full length release from Austrian symphonic power metal band Serenity, who I discovered back in 2011, with their incredible third album Death & Legacy, which over time become one of my top 5 favorites albums. That album marked somewhat of a turning point for the band as before they had played a more complex and progressive style of power metal, and they delivered two excellent albums in that style, where on Death & Legacy they took a turn to more of a cinematic symphonic metal sound, with a major focus on orchestras and huge vocal melodies, and it also had a few nice duets featuring three guest female vocalists. This approach was taken further on War of Ages, with the addition of Clementine Delauney as a co-lead vocalist, but in between then and now the band decided they had gone as far as they could with that sound and decided to part ways with Clementine, leaving Georg Neuhauser as their lone vocalist. This and the departure of longtime guitarist Thomas Buchberger left me curious as to how Codex Atlantcus would sound, but suffice to say Serenity has blown me away once again and delivered an album roughly on par with War of Ages and just barely behind Death & Legacy.
While the lineup changes led me to expect a major overhaul in their music, I’m surprised to report that Codex Atlanticus instantly feels familiar but with a few nice twists to make it stand out. Like its two immediate predecessors, it is a concept album dealing with historical themes, this time focusing specifically on Leonardo da Vinci. The lyrics are quite interesting and well delivered, as always. Musically this feels in some ways like a continuation of their previous albums, especially Death & Legacy, with a few little surprises thrown in. For the most part, it’s the vocal melodies and orchestras that dominate the tracks and these elements are just as prominent and as impressive as ever, but new guitarist Chris Hermsdörfer has acquitted himself very well here and fits in perfectly with the band. On most tracks he’s more limited to helping with the rhythm and serving as a backdrop to the main elements, but there’s a few parts throughout where he gets to fully let loose and he does an impressive job.
Of course, one of those main elements is vocalist Georg Neuhauser, who has become one of my favorite melodic metal singers over the past few years. He has a very warm voice that sounds similar to Sonata Arctica vocalist Tony Kakko, but with a much lighter tone and a smoother, less over the top delivery. He’s one of the best I’ve heard when it comes to getting everything he can out of huge vocal melodies, which of course the songs provide a ton of, and while he sounds very calm throughout, when he’s asked to reach for bigger notes, especially towards the end of tracks when the choruses pick up, he delivers big every time.
After the expected but very nice orchestral intro track, the first proper song “Follow Me” enters in slowly with some nice piano work, before Hermsdörfer is allowed to show off his skill with a pretty killer riff, and the song picks up the pace and turns into the kind of fun up tempo symphonic power metal opener they excel at, except with occasional bursts of heaviness that only add to the already excellent track. Between the guitar work, the orchestras and the chorus, it’s definitely one of my favorites on the album. Next is the more surprising “Sprouts of Terror”, another fast paced track where the guitars are even more prominent and sound a bit thrashy at points, this feeling further enhanced by the more aggressive sounding secondary male vocals, though Georg eventually comes in to bring some melody in to the song, and it ends up being another instant winner. Fans will have already heard “Iniquity” a slower more orchestra and vocal driven track, which features some excellent choir vocals as well as some really nice backing male vocals during its impressive chorus. When I first heard the song I wasn’t overly impressed with it, but over time it has grown on me and I’ve become quite fond of it.
Around this point, the album settles in to more usual Serenity territory, with “Reason” in particular feeling like it would have fit in perfectly next to some of the speedier tracks on Death & Legacy, and it once again features a truly phenomenal chorus that instantly made it one of my favorites. The last rendition of it is especially breathtaking. This feeling of familiarity continues somewhat on both the mid tempo track “Caught in a Myth”, and the slightly faster and heavier track “Fate of Light, but on both tracks the guitar work is impressive and helps them stand out. The latter in particular has a really awesome shredding solo in the middle. Closing track “The Order” is another speedy track that opens with piano and features a slow opening verse, before speeding up for the chorus and it doesn’t let up from that point on.
The album features two ballads, which are both excellent. First is “My Final Chapter”, a slightly folk infused track that fully focuses on the orchestras and serves as an excellent showcase for Georg’s voice, while “The Perfect Woman” has more of a rock opera feel to it, and features some slightly upbeat though very light sounding parts, as well as some excellent guest female vocals during a very memorable part in the middle. Lastly, we have “Spirit in the Flesh”, another heavier, somewhat speedy track which once again features a second male voice (I can’t tell if it’s the same one as on “Sprouts of Terror, but he does sound a bit similar.) He leads during much of the chorus and his delivery is a bit more raw compared to Georg, but it has a certain charm to it and adds some energy to the track. My favorite part of the song is the final chorus, where Georg does an absolutely beautiful rendition of it, before the other singer comes in to finish it off.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, due to the key lineup changes, but in the end Codex Atlanticus is yet another exceptional album from Serenity, that continues with the ultra melodic, somewhat theatrical style they began on Death & Legacy, while adding in a bit of extra heaviness and some other nice touches to make it stand out. It serves as an excellent showcase for vocalist Georg Neuhauser while still feeling like a true team effort, and it contains 10 incredibly catchy songs sure to remain stuck in my head for some time to come. Obviously it’s a must hear for fans of the band, and I also highly recommend for fans of symphonic power metal and melodic metal in general.
Written by: Travis Green