Serious Black – Vengeance Is PersonalThursday, 3rd March 2022
Channeling a series of personal events and lineup shifts into a potent fifth album Vengeance Is Mine, Serious Black faces their biggest challenge to date as Urban Breed steps away from the band, allowing new vocalist Nikola Mijic (Eden’s Curse) to enter the fold. The trademark catchy melodies and focused musical hooks remain strong – along with lyrical content that represents a lot of relationship struggles that bassist Mario Lochert endured for years unbeknownst to many. We reached out to Mario (aka the Bavarian Lion) through Skype, and he gave us the whole story behind the vocalist change, the stories that inspired much of the lyrics for the record, thoughts on digital versus physical product support in metal, plus future plans which hopefully include more North American tour dates.
Dead Rhetoric: Last year Serious Black went through a significant lineup change, losing vocalist Urban Breed and gaining Nikola Mijic. Tell us the circumstances regarding Urban’s departure and unhappiness – as it seemed like a shock to you as bandmates just as much as the fans, learning about this through social media versus in a more personalized way? And how did friends like Henning Basse and Bob Katsionis help to smooth over the work already underway for the latest record Vengeance Is Mine?
Mario Lochert: Of course, I can tell you this. For us, we were shocked. The story started a long time ago. From album to album, it started to be more difficult to work with Urban. Urban had kind of a fuck off attitude. He started to say if you want to record this song, I will not sing it, you will have to search for another singer for this song. Even if we got great offers to do a song. That’s why Jan (Vacik) for instance sings “No Son of Mine”, the Genesis cover, we did back on the limited edition of the debut album As Daylight Breaks. He delivered six weeks after the deadline excuses that were totally strange. Especially towards me, I would try to save his face in front of the record company and the band. I would get mocked up personally.
On the last tour, his behavior for the Hammerfall tour was really ridiculous. He wasn’t showing up to the soundchecks. After he was out of the band, he was saying we are too stupid when it comes to playing our instruments, he thought it wasn’t necessary for him to show up at the soundchecks. Stuff like this. It was a really bad attitude. We started to write songs even knowing about this. Urban was not jumping in to write songs. He would write me sometimes, that he was going fishing. Then he disappeared again.
It was a few days before he did his post on social media. He wrote in an older band chat that was with other members of the band. He wrote that he wanted to excuse himself for the behavior on the last tour, he hoped we read it. We accepted his excuses, and we didn’t reply straight away. We thought this is strange, he is using an old chat program, a long time ago we used it on the Magic tour. We came to a result, we want to reply, and suddenly one day before the magazines and friends/crew members were writing us, wondering what was happening. They said Urban posted on Facebook, that he’s out of the band. We started to call the label, if they knew something, and they knew nothing as we didn’t. The tour was already scheduled, the release date for the album was scheduled, stuff like this. And we had to search for a new singer.
We checked out his post, and this was really, really disappointing. That he turned around all his excuses in the other way. He wrote that we messed up his music, and it was actually a lie. The crew members told us about what he said regarding his thinking we are too stupid to play our instruments, Ramy couldn’t play drums, I’m too stupid to play the bass. In total he cost us nearly 40,000 Euros (45,000 dollars) in the last two years. We said okay, we will search for a new singer. Bad blood was coming into this, and it’s not good for the band and working.
We started to search for a singer. We couldn’t stop, we had to write the songs, prepare everything, to make everything happen somehow. We wrote the album; we wrote the music. When we were searching for a singer, we knew that if we changed the singer, we had just one chance. This new singer has to fit 100% on the vocal front, he has to fit within the band with his attitude, kindness and connect with us. This was a difficult thing, and we are impressed that we received emails from singers all around the world. We wrote many lyrics, and Henning was reacting, he asked us what happened. We only had melodies and lyrics written for four songs – I knew what I wanted on those. I’m not a singer, I’m a producer, arranger, and bass player, sound engineer. For me it was really difficult, for the last set of songs for example “Soldiers of Eternal Light” and “Just For You” we had to fix the vocal lines and phrasing.
Henning has known us since 2011, and he offered to help us. He helped us with the vocal lines, it worked out in a perfect way. Bob also saw the issue, he wanted to come back to Serious Black and he wanted to work on writing some songs with us. We got the complete feature with him, he is a part of Serious Black and he has his studio, record company, he will go with us on stage when it is possible for him and tours when he can.
Dead Rhetoric: The lyrics this time around are your most personal and emotional, providing insights into your private life over the past few years. Why did you feel now is the right time to express yourself in this way with Serious Black – and do you believe you gain a sense of clarity that the fans hopefully can relate to more with this openness?
Lochert: When I was starting the music it was a few years ago. I promised to myself never to mix my private life with my musical career, the music industry or business. This started four years ago, when I met a person. When you do everything for somebody for love. You bring her out of the drugs, you spend nearly every free minute you can to give her a new life, build for her a hairdresser shop, a new house, the time and investment from love into this person. Suddenly, after four years, one day before she left she said I’m a great guy, the best thing she’s ever had in her life, and twelve hours later she left with the words that she didn’t care what I had done for her. She told me I was an asshole and I had to live with it. It had nothing to do with help, we tried to make everything proper. You find out during the holidays, you need money for self-employment, I did everything out of love. I was working to the limit. This was really strange, and I broke down after she left.
You know the movie, Forrest Gump? He was running and running, and I did it in another way, writing and writing. I did a lot of lyrics, it was a kind of medicine to write lyrics, write songs about this. When you are listening to the song “Out of the Ashes” for example, this is my story. I was laying jealous by her side when other men were calling her. I wanted her to tell them she has a boyfriend. Her reaction was just, ah – they don’t have to know it. It was a really hard time. Three weeks after she left, I called the ex-boyfriend, and I found his number. He told me my story from the beginning to the end. And I knew I had to make the album Vengeance Is Mine because to be a nice guy to everybody, saving their faces, I jumped in. It was crazy to be the guy in the end, the nice guy and I have nothing out of this.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences (in any) with this album compared to the previous discography? Do you believe you know the major key components that make for an ideal Serious Black song, or are you continually challenging the parameters of your style?
Lochert: I think we are starting now again where we started actually when we founded the band. We are playing more straight power metal, with a little bit less of progressive parts inside. I think a cool melodic power metal, we keep the finesse on the songs. When you listen to the solos, they are difficult to play. This is a little bit of a new sound what Serious Black is doing. I think this is the right way. The songwriting and performances meld the band together like never before. We are in the next step up. We are like five pieces of metal acting together as one unit more than ever before.
It’s hard about describing how Serious Black is sounding. Many people will be happy with this album, some will miss Urban of course. I think it’s better this way.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you separate your duties as a bassist and a songwriter from the producer role for Serious Black? It must be a balancing act to look for the greater good of the final product while satisfying the wishes of your bandmates, correct?
Lochert: On me, I’m working as a booking agent, management, bass player, and a kind of band leader for Serious Black. I split things completely. When I am listening to songs, for instance “Senso della vita” I wrote lyrics and music by myself – then you see “Out of the Ashes” Bob did the music, I did the lyrics. When others are writing songs, I can do the arrangements in a perfect way – but not what I say is the law. We are always discussing things, and the best things have to be on the record. I’m not pushing what songs have to be on the record. On this album especially, much like the first album, we were acting in the same way. The best of Serious Black would be on this album. When it comes to Magic or Suite 226 as examples, Urban was in a way where he decided what was on the album, and not the rest of the band. When we wanted to change something, he would tell us we had to search for new songs or he wouldn’t sing it. Now I’m pretty sure the best songs are on the album, and I am very satisfied.
Dead Rhetoric: You worked with Stan W Decker on the cover art again, the third time in your history as a band to have him as an artist. What do you enjoy most about his work and what he is able to provide for the band – as visual, striking imagery still has relevance in the metal scene?
Lochert: Stan and I, we are working together in a very good way. This time, we worked the other way around. When we were talking with Stan about the cover, if you see the Magic album, it was Urban as the magician. When you see the Suite 226 album, it was Ramy on the cover. And Vengeance Is Mine, it’s me on the cover. The zodiac sign of me, is the lion. If you see about my story, what I am working with privacy and my life, you see the lion is coming out of the ashes, breaking out. If you take a crystal-clear look of the cover, you see the crown of the princess I destroy with my feet.
I said to Stan I have a personal album, going deep in my soul. People can look into my soul, the band’s soul, the music side. I have to be on the cover, but I don’t know how. I’m a Bavarian lion in the music industry. I want the impression to be how we can feel it. Stan and I brainstormed about this. I let him have complete freedom, what we talked about, and have free hands. Make me exciting and show me what comes up. He wanted to put some ruins, like a temple that is getting destroyed, made of stone. I came up with the mouth of the lion, the might and aggression – put the saliva inside, that it looks really dangerous. Make things colorful, we were working really fast – everybody who was involved in this album put their own feelings inside of this. That’s why the package is so great and polished.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you stand on the value and appreciation of the album format in today’s metal scene – as it seems like the landscape is constantly evolving with digital music streaming, the frequency and importance of singles/EP releases to remain relevant, against the physical sales of vinyl, tapes, and CD formats?
Lochert: I can give you a very good expression. You have listened to the album. If you go off the four singles, the world is changing. Everyone wants to show the best of their lives through Instagram, Facebook. Everyone seems to be on holiday – look, I have a new car, flying to Bahamas, lying on the beach. Everybody is using a filter on their face, looking younger with no wrinkles on their face. This is the expression of the song “Senso della vita” that talks about what is the meaning of life. We are living in a fake world, actually, even people who are normal workers have to cry because they are put down.
We are living in a fast world with streaming. The internet is moving faster and faster. When I was younger for a movie to download you needed to wait one week – now in ten minutes, it’s done. The world gets faster, and many people they are concentrating on Spotify, Tidal, YouTube Music. Thank God, we live in the metal industry, it counts to have the album format. With a great cover, great artwork, the fans want to have this in their own hands. Many people still buy things by download or stream it, but the diehard fans, they will buy the vinyl, the CD’s, the boxsets. I’m proud of our fans. The metal industry is working in another way, unlike other music genres.
Dead Rhetoric: In a previous talk we did a few years ago, you mentioned the day of bands becoming icons are done – especially in the rock/metal world. What would have to take place in your eyes to bring rock and metal back in a bigger way? Do you see any bands that have developed over the past ten to twenty years that could be future flagbearers for larger festival headliners when these older bands retire?
Lochert: I think something for example, Sabaton arising is really high right now. This is a good thing. Hammerfall or Helloween, they have a second spring or summer, they are growing bigger now. The time for icons, real icons like Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Metallica – these times are done. It’s not possible anymore, the music industry is so fast and there is no time to build up a new artist from zero over years, putting all this money inside. Too many labels exist, too many bands exist – I think metal is in a really good way. Before COVID was happening, the festivals were growing.
You have metal and hard rock – everything is splitting. Power metal, gothic metal, thrash metal, heavy metal, holy metal, black metal, folk metal – this is crazy. In the 80’s and 90’s, you just had heavy metal, that was the point.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are some of your proudest achievements within music and outside of the work you’ve done in the field that drive your spirit and passion for life?
Lochert: I started to listen to heavy metal and rock music when I was six years old. I was not focused on being a musician and sound engineer, I wanted to be a soccer player. When I was fourteen it changed, I wanted to play music. It has been a great part of my life, the passion for music. For engineering the stuff, to use my ears, your feelings, your emotions. I never want to miss it again. I love the music business. We love to play music; we love to be on tour and play in front of our fans. But there are also some not so funny parts.
When my daughter was ten days old, I had to go on the Gamma Ray tour for six weeks. It was not easy for me, I missed her first steps, her first words. I love my job and I love to rock; I want to play music, and this is my passion.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges currently facing Serious Black in terms of developing, growing, and moving up the ranks in terms of a bigger, better following?
Lochert: This is a very hard question. It’s very important that when you are releasing an album, you want to move up to the next step in terms of gaining more of a following. You invest all this money, time, and love, working here without any sleep. When I was writing this album, I was only sleeping three or four hours a day. In these nine long months, seven days a week. You want to rise with the band, the sales have to be good. With Vengeance Is Mine, we hope to go up the next steps in the career of Serious Black. We will see what the charts are saying after we release the album. When I look at the latest single “Out of the Ashes” it has nearly 300,000 plays in three weeks. That’s very impressive.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the docket for Serious Black or other production/musical activities personally over the next twelve months – touring and festival appearances, and is there a possible North American tour in the works?
Lochert: At the moment, we had to postpone our European tour until the fall of 2022. It’s been crazy, they were raising capacity in the venues from 25% to 50%, but you couldn’t drink or smoke. We were forced to postpone the tour. Now we are playing next month in Spain, we will play in the summertime some festivals. In the fall we will tour in Europe. In 2023 we are planning to go to South America and Asia. On the way, we may play on the East and West Coast of America, we would love to play more in that territory.