Review: The Secret

The Secret Agnus Dei Southern Lord

I often start these posts by conceding my utter ignorance about some topic or other. That’s usually pretty safe strategy, because at least if you get something totally wrong (as I have done from time to time) you can fall back on humility by making further reference to one’s own ignorance. If I’m taking a little different tack this time, it’s only because I’ve had a long history with Italian underground music. Those of you who were around in the 1980s will remember the shattering effect with which Raw Power burst onto the scene in 1985. Screams from the Gutter was a real revelation. The American version, essentially a rerecorded version of You Are the Victim, melded blistering thrash with wild metallic soloing. For me, it was the singing that really made the band. Mauro Codeluppi sounded like he was just short of bursting into flame at any given moment, and their second guitarist Davide (brought on the for the US tour and drafted in to try and reproduce original vocalist Silvio’s screams in the studio) kicked shit right over the top.

Of course, discerning music lovers could find a lot to entertain themselves coming out of Italy in those days. When Raw Power settled in to mediocrity (after releasing one last awesome gasp in the form of the Wop Hour 7”) other bands were there to take up the cudgels. Negazione was probably my favorite, although there were quite a number of other awesome bands that could be mentioned (Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, Indigesti, Declino, Impact, Wretched, etc., etc.).

Anyway, suffice to say, Italy has given the hardcore world some of its finest moments, and it is in this context that I want to talk about The Secret. I was first turned on the these guys earlier this year by the Captain, whose wide ranging searches for the new and the awesome far outstrip my meager powers of detection. Having missed their first two records completely my introduction to Solve et Coagula, their third full length. If you only listened to the first couple of minutes of this disc, you might think that The Secret was a doom act (and a pretty damn good one too). Then the five minutes of thick guitar and sludgy drumming that is “Cross Builder” comes to an end and the scene changes dramatically. “Death Alive” begins in a way reminiscent of the best moments of High on Fire before breaking into blast beat hysteria and eventually receding into straight hardcore thrashing. Yes, The Secret is a band that can present a lot of fronts, from heavy, doomy, grind to blistering thrash with atmospheric elements.

The question for anyone having heard this had to be: what would their next release be like? Solve et Coagula was going to be a pretty tough act to follow. I am pleased to report that Agnus Dei is a move from strength to strength. Discarding the doom-sodden intro of their previous record, the lads break hard out the gate, with blast beat straight into Tragedy-esque mid-tempo hardcore. Agnus Dei has a bit less in terms of variety than Solve et Coagula does. There is more thrashing and fewer forays into other modes of heaviness, at least for about the first two thirds of the cuts. This gives it a more stripped down feel, although this is a bit of an odd term to use for a record featuring a guitar sound that calls to mind a chainsaw ripping through a stack of corpses. The overall effect is to knock the breath out of the listener, refusing to let up throughout. It is only ten cuts in when we reach “Heretic Temple” that the accustomed variety of The Secret’s earlier approach reappears. The dark, doomy atmosphere so much in evidence on the previous disc reappears here, albeit with a slightly more black metal feel, and the listener is drawn into a dark and airless catacomb. The next two cuts ramp the intensity back up to cardiac straining levels, before the final cut, “Seven Billion Graves” arrives like a whirlwind, combining all of The Secret’s stylistic breadth into one titanic package (you’ll know what I mean if you listen to it all the way to the end).

The lads at Southern Lord have, in recent years, become the leading purveyors of intense, dark thrash, and The Secret has been an excellent addition to their stable. Agnus Dei is almost unbearably intense, and if there is a criticism to be made it is that its intensity can be numbing after a few cuts. That said, they have a great talent for arrangement and for the creation of atmosphere. This I will say: Agnus Dei has vaulted to the top of my list of the best records released this year.


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