Serenity – Following The PassionThursday, 9th November 2023
Photo: Matthias Schwaighofer
The latest album from Austrian symphonic power/progressive metal act Serenity is Nemesis AD – another conceptual record covering the history of German painter, printmaker, and theorist Albrecht Dürer. Adding the ubiquitous Marco Pastorino as second guitarist, the current lineup seems very focused and intent on knowing how to execute their sound to the masses – bristling with all the masterful strokes one would expect in this style. We reached out to guitarist Christian Hermsdörfer to learn more about the latest record, Marco’s addition to the group, video making including an edit of one specific single, the lyrical content and how to also make it relevant to modern audiences, how the live market has been post-pandemic, thoughts on how pursuing a music career later in life pays dividends for long-term happiness, and what’s in store for both Serenity and Beyond the Black in the coming year or so.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest Serenity album is Nemesis AD. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material – and what does latest guitarist Marco Pastorino (Temperance, Fallen Sanctuary) add to the mix through his skill sets to make the band that much stronger?
Christian Hermsdörfer: In general, we are absolutely looking forward to the release of Nemesis AD because we think to be honest, especially Georg and me, we both agree that this album could be the strongest Serenity album of all time. Because some albums in the past, we haven’t changed our path, we just went back to the real elements that we wanted to do. One album would be more prog, one more symphonic, and with this album we have more power metal elements. We keep the line, but we are not going anytime to more peaks – it’s a more compressed sound for Serenity. We have already tried a lot on The Last Knight and Lionheart before, we have found a way to write music that we are fine with. I remember we were sitting in my studio; it was Sascha Paeth, myself and Georg in January, we listened to the really rough ideas that we were working on and writing about one year previous. From January to the final mastering, it took us only half a year. We were writing from January to our deadline, but everything felt good.
We just know what to do. And that’s something of course with Marco. He’s a guitar player, a good singer, and a creative guy with the songwriting. Which we knew already, he contributed songwriting on The Last Knight – Georg and Marco were working in parallel on this Fallen Sanctuary thing. He just suggested this, Georg likes a songwriting buddy. Before he had Jan (Vacik), our former producer. Since The Last Knight we’ve been working with Sacha Paeth. I can work on songwriting on my own, I can produce almost everything here by myself. We wanted him in this songwriting work flow. Everyone knows though for over six years I’ve been with Beyond the Black, and it’s not easy with Serenity as I may have to tour with BtB, and I am a father too. I also have to handle my time. Georg suggested that Marco had interest to become a sixth member, helping us with the live situation as we would always have one guitar player. We know that it’s also working to write songs for us, this package helps us a lot. The whole sound, he’s not changing it, he’s just stepping into the path we already made with all the Serenity albums before. We know since Georg and I have been the main songwriters since Codex Atlanticus, we know how Serenity should sound and Marco is helping with that.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the guest appearance with ex-Kamelot / Conception singer Roy Khan come about for “The Fall of Man”? As I’m aware that for Georg, Roy is his ultimate vocal hero, that must have been so special to occur here…
Hermsdörfer: Exactly – and that was one of the reasons why we tried to get him. As everyone knows, we love to have guests on our albums. For the first few albums, it was one or two women. We thought that we’ve had the chance to work with almost everyone we wanted to on the female side. It’s not that easy to get the guests that you want to have. Roy Khan, we weren’t sure, but sometimes you try, and of course if you have a history together as Serenity has had with Roy and Kamelot, it’s also sometimes easier to get someone in touch with you. We have Sascha, who is a long-time part of the Kamelot history and knows Roy well, that made it possible to have him. For Georg it was a bucket list thing to have him. I am not as much of a Kamelot fan, I do respect them, they are cool, and it’s a really good thing in the symphonic/power metal field. The first time I listened to “The Fall of Man”, it was just magic, it was great. You can feel things in his voice, he’s outstanding, it’s a pleasure to have him on this record.
Dead Rhetoric: Of the singles released from the new album, you shot an edited version of “Reflections (Of AD)” as a concept video. How did the video shoot go with Ralf Leitner as director, and discuss the challenges of taking an eight-minute plus album version to under five minutes in this format?
Hermsdörfer: It was a challenge. The thing was – if you write and compose a song, you have the intention to do a tribute to bands you love. The music was done by Georg, Marco and Sascha. There was a song structure, it felt like it could turn into a Meatloaf-type song. It can be amazing, or people will argue, and no one will care but I think plus or minus it’s the only option. Everyone in interviews has been talking about this song being like Meatloaf or Avantasia, but you can still hear Serenity, and that was the thing we wanted to keep. We didn’t want to copy and paste these artists into an eight-minute-long song, we wanted to have our own song. If you have such a song which is like an opera, one song like this it’s not easy to bring this to a video version because of the rules in music – most songs are shorter these days. We have to keep up the interest in a video, so the problem is then to keep it interesting within a time limit. I did the lyrics of this song, it’s an important part of the life of Albrecht Dürer, he did reflections all over the years. It’s something we need nowadays, we wanted to give all the lyrics to the people – but we had to keep the main story points. We found an agreement to cut the solo, cut this part, try to keep it interesting through listening and watching.
Dead Rhetoric: In our last interview with Georg for the Memoria release, he mentioned your influence on the arrangements that shape his songwriting ideas in a more modern context because of your harder/modern preferences and approach. Can you think of a specific instance or two where this took shape on the new record – and do you believe this helps Serenity separate themselves from the typical symphonic, power/progressive metal pack?
Hermsdörfer: The good thing is, it’s absolutely true. It’s leading us to make creating an album in the meantime easier. Georg needs a songwriting buddy that’s in his world of music. Marco is more into the old school or long-existing type of metal bands. I listen to all styles of music and try stuff which is not that common. I’ve been trying since my first songwriting time in Serenity to understand the music of the band and what the fans want to have. Since Codex Atlanticus and The Last Knight, we look at all the songs and bring them to one music style, to bring a red line to that. Sascha may do the typical producing things, asking us to change a part here and there, or a melody, but the whole sound structure and what Georg meant, this modern way, bringing an old riff to a new level, that’s my job. Also, the pre-orchestration, bringing new sound elements, there are so many elements there from the beginning. I’m the sound creator, songwriter, and try to be the heart of the song structure. We have this balance so that the power and progressive metal people can also be happy.
After a break listening to all the songs on this album in the right order, I felt like wow – it’s very dynamic. It’s exactly where it is. That makes us a great team. We know what everyone has to do, and we can bring it to the end.
Dead Rhetoric: This record lyrically tackles the work of painter Albrecht Dürer, best known for his artistry during the German renaissance. Are you always impressed with Georg’s research and depth of historical knowledge that he’s able to apply to Serenity in this regard?
Hermsdörfer: Sure. First of all, bringing us the topics, the main idea for the album, it’s always done by (Georg). It’s his job, it’s his passion also. Afterwards, it’s also my hope to help with the lyrics and try to create stories that are of course based on the truth of history, and also you can read, think, and feel something that you can transfer to current times. It’s one thing to be interested in history, but we also have listeners who are not. Even if we tell them that Albrecht Dürer is an important person in human history, they may not care, but they feel something with a song we write. In general, Georg knows more – we’ve had a lot of albums written on past history, last time with The Last Knight he knew a lot because Maximillion the First is in his home area. With Dürer, he was born thirty minutes away from where I live, Nuremberg where parts of my family are still living here, it’s historically special for me. I read a lot about him, I watched documentaries, listened to podcasts, I dove into the stories surrounding his amazing artwork. It helped to bring the feeling to the songs.
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you’ve been able to get back to touring/festival stages post-pandemic, how have the shows been going for you personally? Do you see a renewed interest, passion, and appreciation from the musicians as well as the fans that may have taken for granted in the past?
Hermsdörfer: Yeah, definitely. It was a hard time; we can be proud and happy to have the fan base that we have. We lost no one during these two years, we felt it in Memoria but also in the many times rescheduled The Last Knight tour this year. It was amazing, we had a great tour together with all the other bands and the fans. Since that time, there weren’t that many shows happening – we are looking forward to the autumn, going to Japan, finally coming back to the US with the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. We will also do a headline tour with Serenity across Europe in February of 2024. People are very thankful, even though humans will forget things pretty fast. The life situation with COVID-19 is there – we as musicians are looking forward to being on tour after an album release again, instead of can we do this, can we not?
We also got used to getting older, losing two years. We don’t have to tell lies about this, our break, we still are 1000% full of energy. It’s more what changed in being a musician, the thinking of being on tour – what shows you will play, what shows you won’t play. You know a bit better the balance between not having to be on every stage of the world.
Dead Rhetoric: How has your relationship with your fellow bandmates evolved over the years in Serenity as well as Beyond the Black?
Hermsdörfer: The change in Serenity wasn’t really there at all. When I joined Beyond the Black, I didn’t want to be that guy that was just leaving because there is something bigger or better. I know how thankful and happy I was and still am to be a part of Serenity – and not just be someone in the band, I’m a really important person in the band’s history and feel this all the time at home. We work hard together – through the good times as well as the bad times in our private times. We are still four guys loving each other like we should do – we have a new member, a family guy with Marco, everything is great. It’s just becoming like usual, a family. You don’t have to tell everyone every day how important they are. This is a decision that everyone knows, the roles that they have to play, the game of Serenity and it’s working well, and everyone feels good. We can do what we love, there’s no pressure, there is not this we have to show off something. We know who we are. Everyone has found their place. There is nothing we want to change; we know what we can do and where we want to reach. That’s such a cool level, and no pressure because pressure can destroy things a lot. We just enjoy what we are able to do, and we will stay like this as long as possible.
Also, with Beyond the Black, they know each other, we’ve been on tour together for a while, everything is just perfect. There’s one thing in my life that was important to me when I changed my life to become a musician, very late in life. It was the perfect time. I said that I will never do things that I don’t like, and I would never work with people I don’t like. If there is something that feels like that, I will stop it because I have a Master of Economy Business degree. I could work completely somewhere else, but I went after (music) because it was my passion, and everything is just great.
Dead Rhetoric: You are closing in on 40 next year. What have you learned most about life as a musician in your twenties and thirties that you will take going forward into the next part of your career? Are there more goals or bucket list items to accomplish that you set forth?
Hermsdörfer: It’s a cool question, because of what I said previously. I was a free-time musician trying to earn money for studying for my master’s degree. I was always more limited in my views. I was not that brave. Today I really don’t care about anything, you can put me in front of the biggest crowd, on tv, and I will do it. I almost lost this, and I have respect. When I was between twenty and thirty, I had several requests to try to do this music business full-time. I said no, I don’t know, maybe I’ll lose money, maybe I’ll lose my career, my girlfriend. All these things you have when you are at the beginning of your music career. The only thing I would change is to become braver earlier, more honest with myself. Listen to those people, do that thing – I should be somewhere else, listen to yourself more. Material things will go fast – if you do great in the thing you do well, you will have those things as well. And that’s the truth. I have so many friends when I went to school, all that were following their passion, they are great in the thing they are doing. It’s easy to go to work, it’s easy to earn money, it’s easy to sit here in the studio like I do until three o’clock in the morning even if the baby will cry at five, you don’t care because you love what you do.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for touring, festival, and recording action for the next year or so with Serenity and Beyond the Black?
Hermsdörfer: The schedule… first Japan, 70K of Metal, a European headline tour in February. Beyond the Black will follow in April with a tour, we are waiting for all the festival offers as they will come now. The booking agency told us they are going crazy with the work into the summer. It’s too early to tell too many details. We are focused on the things we know. I look forward to the future, I always want to have the future in view and planned, but it’s more like for the next couple of months. Things can change that fast, we’ve learned in the last few years. It’s not that smart to have advanced plans too far out.