SERENITY – UNTOLD DREAMS
Andy Read speaks to Serenity Keyboardist Mario Hirzinger
Coming from a country where extreme metal gets all the attention, Serenity learnt their trade playing to near empty halls. That will soon change, with the name of these Austrian ProgPower metallers emblazoned across one of the brightest debut albums of its kind.
Andy Read speaks to keyboardist Mario Hirzinger, and discovers how having the guts to take a few risks, resulted in a record deal and a European tour in quick succession.
It’s certainly a case of ‘all systems go’ in the Serenity camp. The band has recently returned from its first ever tour, completing ten dates with Sweden’s Morgana Lefay and Germany’s Sacred Steel. A busy schedule of interviews has followed a series of rave reviews from magazines across Europe for the band’s new album.
Speaking on the phone from Austria before the recent shows, Mario told me: ‘We’ve played several gigs in the last month and had our last rehearsal yesterday. I think there will be no problems, although we will all be very nervous for the first gig. We have 30 minutes to open each show and so we will leave the ballads at home and just kick them in the face with heavy music.’
A good musical kick in the face was certainly what I received when listening to the band’s debut album for the first time. If you’ve never heard of Serenity before, then don’t worry. The name is entirely new to pretty much everyone.
The band can trace its history back to the first month of 2001. However the much-quoted ‘line-up changes’ plagued their efforts to develop a sound and reputation of their own, until the current five-some got together in 2003
Only Mario and drummer Andreas Schipflinger (you’ve gotta be careful how you say that!) now remain from those distant beginnings. With the addition of Georg Neuhauser on vocals, Thomas Buchberger on guitar, and Simon Holzknecht on bass, Mario believes the band now has a steady line-up that can challenge the best that the genre has to offer.
‘We always say first of all that we are playing Metal,’ offers the keyboard maestro. ‘If someone is into metal then that’s all they need to know. But for those who are more particular, we say that we play a style of melodic, progressive, power metal. We are not really power metal and not really ProgMetal. If you ask us to name similar bands, we say that we are somewhere in the middle between Kamelot, Mercenary and Threshold, and if you listen to some of the orchestral arrangements, Nightwish.’ ‘Maybe not of that quality yet,’ he adds modestly, ‘but that gives people a good idea of what we sound like.’
Worn out with too many albums that stretch as close to the CD's playing capacity as they can, one of the main attractions for me with "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived", is that it holds just eight tracks, all of which get pretty straight to the point.
‘I’m glad you like that,’ enthuses Mario. ‘I write myself for an online magazine here in Austria and I know that having to listen to too many long albums is a problem. There was a plan for us to have a ballad on the album, but we were not happy with it and left it out. We just concentrated on the eight songs with two interludes. I think the length is good for a debut album. No-one should be annoyed or bored with it going on too long.’
Another surprised was hearing such a progressive and melodic band coming from Austria, which let’s be blunt hasn’t a great reputation for producing too many decent bands over the years. I wonder what the metal scene is actually like in a land better known for downhill skiing and classical music.
‘It is mainly underground,’ admits Mario. ‘Austria has a great tradition in extreme metal - bands like Pungent Stench and Belfegor. We are one of the only melodic metal bands in the underground and so it is quite fun for us to play gigs. We are always the only melodic band on the bill. Although we have won a lot of respect, sometimes it happens that there is no-one in front of us when we play. They only come out when the next extreme band comes on stage.’
However it was a twist of good luck that brought the band its first big break, when on August 2nd 2004 they were given the chance to support Ronnie James Dio.
‘That was a great thing,’ recalls Mario proudly. ‘We had played a local band contest in 2003 and won third place. One of the prizes was a gig in a great venue here in Austria where bands like Judas Priest and Savatage have played before. However we were finding it hard to find a date for it, and then one day I got a call from the venue manager. He said that he wanted to cancel the gig ….. and give us the support slot with Ronnie James Dio! It was not a difficult choice to make, even though the rest of the band thought at first that I was joking.’
‘Anyway it was only the second gig we played with the new line-up. We were nervous as hell and the venue was crammed full with people from Germany, Austria and Italy. It really went well and people liked us very much. That was one of the things that we used to climb out of the underground.’
‘The only disappointment was that we didn’t get to meet Ronnie. He stayed at a hotel and just came in for the gig. It was a little bit sad, as he is a hero for every kind of metal fan. We did watch the show though and I must say that after all these years, he just gets better.’
At the same time Serenity had begun producing a demo. 'Engraved Within' was released in the spring of 2005, receiving outstanding reviews throughout Europe, including the highly coveted 'Demo of the Month' honour in the German magazines Rock Hard and Metal Hammer.
By now, several labels were interested in working with the band, so I ask Mario to explain why they took the huge risk of self-financing their debut album.
‘Our singer is really into the business side of metal. He reads lots of articles, and he said that the only way for us to get a deal was to present a finished product to the labels. We said okay, but it was very expensive to go into a studio ourselves. Of course, it was worth the risk in the end.’
It certainly was, as the album, complete with full artwork and promotional material, was snapped up by the Austrian-based Napalm Records. With a roster generally on the more extreme side of metal, I suggest that Napalm is a slightly unexpected home for the band.
‘Not really,’ states Mario. ‘They are changing their emphasis with bands like Edenbridge. We have a good contract. When this album is done, we have the chance to make four more albums with Napalm.’
The fact that 'Words Untold & Dreams Unlived' was self-financed should not be taken to mean that any corners were cut in its production. Recorded in part at the acclaimed Dreamscape Studios in Munich and mastered at equally well-known Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, the sound is superb. The band even went as far as the Czech Republic to produce the album’s orchestral arrangements. Another good selling point is the album’s eye-catching cover and artwork. I wonder if the cover forms part of a concept with the eight songs.
‘We had an exact concept, but the artist from Athens, Greece did something a little different. He presented us with four covers and we chose that one, because we thought the eye in the middle is really something that grabs your attention. The other images are on the inside. It’s great artwork. Very colourful.
The album is due for release on April 27th and the band already has firm plans for the future.
‘We will go out again on a support tour in the Autumn. We’ve talked already with the band and they like the album. It’s not 100% complete yet, but it will be a great opportunity to reach more people because this band will play venues with 4-500 people. We’ve also got four festivals in Austria - again with extreme metal bands!! But there’s another festival with Edenbridge and Disillusion and another festival in Germany that we’re talking to.’
And there are already songs written for the second album. ‘One song is completed. It’s a heavy song called ‘Wrath of Coming Ages’. It’s got more growls than the current songs but we will not use them on any other song. We are on a good way with three other songs and plan to go into the studio in the late Autumn, with the next album released by the latest in summer 2008. Would love also love to play the Progpower UK festival next year. I’ve never even been to England before so that’d be amazing.’
Interview for DPRP by
31 Aug 2007 20:00 - Die Halle Reichenbach/Fils (DE)
01 Sep 2007 20:00 - Plato Helmond (NL)
02 Sep 2007 20:00 - Boerderji Zoetermeer (NL)
03 Sep 2007 20:00 - Matrix Bochum (DE)
04 Sep 2007 20:00 - Colos Saal Aschaffenburg (DE)
05 Sep 2007 20:00 - Hirsch Nürnberg (DE)
06 Sep 2007 20:00 - Markthalle Hamburg (DE)
07 Sep 2007 20:00 - N8 Osnabrück (DE)
08 Sep 2007 20:00 - Retro Music Hall Prague (CZ)
09 Sep 2007 20:00 - Schiff A38 Budapest (HU)
11 Sep 2007 20:00 - Transbordeur Lyon (FR)
12 Sep 2007 20:00 - Roxy Saarbrücken (DE)
13 Sep 2007 20:00 - Z7 Pratteln (CH)
14 Sep 2007 20:00 - Biebob Vosselaar (BE)
28 Sep 2007 20:00 - Mean Fiddler London (UK)
29 Sep 2007 20:00 - Podium Hardenberg (NL)
30 Sep 2007 20:00 - Waerdse Tempel Heerhugowaard (NL)
02 Oct 2007 20:00 - Transbordeur Lyon (FR)
03 Oct 2007 20:00 - Rock School Barbey Bordeaux (FR)
06 Oct 2007 20:00 - Night of Rock Festival Nussdorf/Debant (A)
29 Mar 2008 18:00 - ProgPower UK III The anson room / Bristol (UK)
Serenity Official Website
Serenity MySpace Page
Napalm Records Website