Serious Black is unreasonably big in the power metal scene, releasing three full lengths in as many years from 2015 to 2017. For their fourth full length - titled Suite 226 - they’ve first and foremost given the material some time to cook, and also aimed for a darker tone than has permeated their latest two offerings, which is definitely a nice turn fitting their style and in particular vocalist Urban breed. Former guitarist Bob Katsionis (Firewind) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (Turilli / Lione Rhapsody) leaving in 2017 and 2018 respectively should seem like a big loss, but considering the material and sound is better than previously it makes for little difference. Replacement drummer Ramy Ali (Iron Mask, ex- Freedom Call) is qualified enough, and now lone guitarist Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge) gets to show his colors on his own and there’s little doubt the lineup has all the talent to actually pull off an album deserving of the praise these guys get. Reality however appears to interfere.
Urban breed can do absolute magic when his heart is really in it, and as a consequence you can tell when it isn’t entirely, which unfortunately goes for a majority of the album at play. Perhaps that is the problem with Serious Black’s entire existence; the music has never felt like they’re in it for more than a paycheck. Speaking of Urban breed in his right element; album highlight We Still Stand Tall, hidden where you’d usually find filler, is exactly the power metal magic Serious Black can do so well but elects to make rarities in the attempted emotional drama. Fast paced, energetic and flapping serious synergy between keys and guitars it gets the elements right, and on top of it breed lets loose as well. Sebastian’s guitars are among the best elements of the album; flowing melodics are woven into the rhythmic riffing and oftentimes his effort is what actually makes a song worthwhile - like the sweet soloing heralding the ending of Castiel. These guys have a penchant for penning a kicking, headbanging power metal track cracking with melody and fast paced, memorable riffing. But that doesn’t seem to be what they’re interested in, rather meshing in pseudo emotional cheese and a poppy sound for a larger appeal.
Another issue is the lack of climactic crescendos; a power metal tune sorely needs that bombast to close it off for memorability, but on Suite 226 it’s just not there. Perhaps the biggest offender here is the title track, which at over eight minutes is the band’s longest song to date, but it never really goes anywhere plodding along in the same vein through the runtime before unceremoniously fading out and into silence. As power metal goes Serious Black’s formula is very base, showcasing some moments of glory and greatness - as has been the case since the first album - and Suite 226 is no different in that regard, but every part feels disjointed, perhaps now more than ever; it just doesn’t feel like a cohesive album. Serious Black still suffer most from losing Roland Grapow and Thomen Stauch, because we never got to see what could have been, buuuut since that’s not why we’re here this album is fine I guess, with the usual suspects of good to great power metal tracks. Not without its issues, but marginally better than any of their previous albums.
Standout tracks: Let Me Go, We Still Stand Tall