Serious Black – Delivery of MagicThursday, 17th August 2017
No rest for any metal band worth their salt these days. Especially in a scene where any prolonged absence can lose listeners in droves, the choices limitless for product to consume. Which makes it all the more remarkable that since the 2015 release of the debut album As Daylight Breaks, Serious Black has been on prime-time opening slots with Hammerfall and Gamma Ray across mainland Europe for tours, performed at numerous festivals such as Wacken, Masters of Rock, and ProgPower USA – plus scheduled a headliner tour, and released a follow-up album in 2016 for Mirrorworld. It shouldn’t be shocking then that they’ll release their third studio album in three years – the conceptual record Magic.
Embracing as natural as possible recording techniques this go around, the stellar vocal melodies from veteran Urban Breed plus natural power metal versatility from the other musicians (guitarists Bob Katsionis and Dominik Sebastian, keyboardist Jan Vacik, bassist Mario Lochert, and drummer Alex Holzwarth) make this platter memorable, taking you on an aural adventure few will forget. Reaching out to Mario after he came back from Italy visiting his young daughter, the man takes his role as the one pulling the ropes seriously. Gearing up for a festival appearance in Spain where they would share the bill with Megadeth and Sabaton among others – we tackle everything from their incredible productivity, special edition physical output, how they handled the initial lineup changes, and also discuss his love and passion for soccer.
It’s time to enjoy listening to a Bavarian guy for breakfast- as he tells me before we start with a keen sense of humor, ‘it’s better than a newspaper!’.
Dead Rhetoric: Magic is the third Serious Black album in consecutive years – a rarity in today’s metal scene. What factors contribute to this productivity and regular release schedule?
Mario Lochert: It’s like this- I think this is the most important question from the journalists on the record. Are you crazy? You are releasing three albums in three years, and now with this third one you have a live album and an unplugged album as well. You could say in the 1980’s most bands released albums every year- and it was working too. We are older, but the feeling is we are not a regular band. The usual band will meet up to rehearse two times each week, (but) we don’t see each other for three or four months- we are in contact through Skype and What’s App on the internet. This makes the magic stuff- the fire is burning always when we see each other again.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you guys also writing on the road, does this help the productivity?
Lochert: Of course. On the Gamma Ray tour for example, we have a studio in the back of the bus and we started to write the Mirrorworld album. It was successful, so we did this on the Mirrorworld tour as well. Actually, on the Mirrorworld tour, we wrote six or seven tracks for the new album, and we surprised our record label as well. We called them in January and said we were done writing for the record, and we were ready to enter the studio. And they asked us if we were sure that the songs had the (right) quality – we told them to listen to the material and tell us, and they said okay. The big surprise was when we were nearing the delivery date, and we presented them with the three albums that we wanted to release together. And then they went crazy, they thought we were completely crazy in the head.
Dead Rhetoric: The album tells the story of Mr. Nightmist, a figure that through generations, maintains a legendary, mysterious status. How did the story develop, and were you all conscious of developing individual songs while still maintaining a certain flow for the lyrical content?
Lochert: If it’s okay, I’ll go back a little in the past- I don’t know how much time you have. This is actually a crazy, really cool story. We were on the Mirrorworld tour, and Urban comes up with the chorus to “Serious Black Magic”. Bob wrote a great melody, and it was starting in a crazy way. I thought about working with a special package, the Ouija board and tarot cards. So we started, and Urban said the day after that he really wanted to write a concept album. A complete story from the first to the last song- we thought it was supposed to be really difficult to write a kind of musical of all the feelings in heavy metal. For us, it was easy to celebrate this – everybody jumped in with full passion and full power. It worked out within one month, we prepared the mixes with people who work with Def Leppard, Melissa Etheridge, Phil Collins. We didn’t want to work the way it is today with a lot of triggers, doing fake drums- let’s play everything natural so we can keep the feelings high.
We recorded like 25 years ago for the status of today. We started to mix each song from the beginning to catch the feelings of each individual song. I think you’ve listened to the album already, if you hear it- sometimes the kick is a little bit lower, sometimes the snare is a little bit more punchy, the bass and keyboards are in some songs different. What Urban wrote with the story, it’s about a magician from the 1700’s. He fell in love with the witch of Cauldron town – the mayor is doing black magic, she went in front of justice and should be burned at the stake. It’s a love story somehow, but I think all the listeners should keep an eye out and listen to the whole story as I think it’s a really nice one.
Dead Rhetoric: You also made a conscious effort to go back to basics in terms of recording gear for this record – older microphones, rawer guitars, no triggering. Does this help Serious Black stand out in a sea of technology-enhanced metal releases?
Lochert: For me, a sound guy especially, it’s sad. When you buy for example a Hammerfall album, it’s not a question that they are really good. It’s a sadness, you listen to Freedom Call, you listen to Orden Ogan, you listen to Hammerfall, Gloryhammer- you hear the same kick, you hear the same snare, you hear everything mastered to the edge and you can’t crank up the volume because it starts to distort. For us, we said let’s do it like it was. Without any triggering, let’s just punch it. What do you want to do more these days- you can’t put more compression into the mastering, more triggers. I don’t know if Serious Black is the right band to set a new trend, but the response that we are getting at the moment from the journalists and magazines- they are overwhelmed. They haven’t heard something like this in a long time. The customer makes the choice if he likes it or not- we are really satisfied with it and I think you are too otherwise you wouldn’t do the interview.
Dead Rhetoric: I totally agree with your assessment. There are a lot of albums that don’t stand out because everything sounds the same, the compression, the loudness wars…
Lochert: When you take the old Mötley Crüe records for an example, “Kickstart My Heart” or “Shout at the Devil”, Queen – “I Want It All” or Bon Jovi “Livin’ On a Prayer”, or Metallica – you crank it up until the end and it makes it more fun. These days, you put it at a quarter of the volume and suddenly the compression is working. I think heavy metal and hard rock, melodic metal, it has to rock. You need to reach it with the volume- it has to sound as good at low volumes as when you want to crank things to the edge.
Dead Rhetoric: Who comes up with the special edition/box set ideas as far as tarot cards plus the witchboard – do you believe the diehards love the unique physical ideas that develop out of the storyline and band?
Lochert: The idea for the special edition came from my head. With the special package, you get a tarot deck designed by us and for us- the board, three CD’s – Live in Atlanta, unplugged, around 40 songs in total- and you get a special book and certificate. Everything is focused on the 17th century- for 40 Euros, this is the total, complete thing that a fan can get from a band.
Dead Rhetoric: How did it feel after the debut album As Daylight Breaks to see both Roland (who co-founded the band with you) and Thomen step away – and did you know straight away Bob and Alex would be the right replacements for the band?
Lochert: This was really strange. I have known Thomen since 2000, and Roland even longer. It was somehow hard, but Thomen has his back issues. It wasn’t possible for him to play, he could play but not what we want to do. We want to conquer the world, and our goal by 2021 is to play nearly 200 additional concerts. So that’s our personal goal, and it wouldn’t have happened with Thomen’s back issue. He would play a show, then he needs to rest two weeks- so you can’t grow in those times, touring is very important today. You have to go in the studio, touring, signing, touring, signing, playing festivals- this is the way it goes today. Too many bands exist today, so you always have to be present on the highest level you can.
Of course, when Roland said he had the (ear infection), he needed his ears to use in the studio for his living. He has Masterplan and he didn’t want to skip that as well. We searched for the highest professionals that could still play our material, and they are absolutely professional. With Bob and Alex we did the right thing. Now of course, the new problem is coming because Gus G is out from Ozzy- so I don’t know how much time Bob will have because Gus needs to live from something as well. He will also push Firewind until the end, but let’s see what is working and what is coming. With the Magic album, we showed our potential for the future for this band. During the mixing of this album, we’ve already written four songs for the upcoming album.
Dead Rhetoric: Mirrorworld in its regular edition is a compact nine-song offering – while the digi-pack edition has numerous bonus tracks. Was it a challenge to decide what made the main album versus the limited edition at that time?
Lochert: This is the problem in these days. For example, major companies are signing bands and releasing bands – you get out the CD’s for $9.99 in each store. When you want to hold something against it, then you have to think about some stuff. This was the planning, when we are in the face of life and band history to grow. We have to reach a lot of people, and when you are standing in the record store with a release of the new Metallica album, maybe the young guys have 10 Euros left- it’s an additional argument for us to be able to sell more CD’s. The record company is the one to decide this- it becomes more of an extra teaser.
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