Having been on what seems like an endless tour since the release of their “Salve et Coagula” record a couple of years back, it’s a wonder the Italian monstrosity The Secret have finally found time to get this follow up together at all. It’s barely about to hit the racks and they’re back on the road already. The question you have to ask when you consider all this is how, if at all, their relentlessly road-dogging has informed the new album?
It certainly seems like it has because while there’s still plenty of the blast laden, all out assault that characterised the last record and lead to their live sets being a continuous battering, this time around “Agnus Dei” sees the band incorporate a better sense of pacing and variety to their bludgeon. It’s all the more satisfying a listen because of that, and shows a sense of refinement the preceding album simply didn’t have. It seems here that The Secret has matured, and they wear it well.
Quick catch up for the uninitiated: The Secret is in essence a melting pot of Sunlight Sound death metal guitars, the hardcore punk assault of His Hero Is Gone or Skitsystem, and hints of black metal and sludge. Primarily operating at a breakneck pace that allows zero room for subtlety (and, as hinted at above makes far more sense in the live arena, which is their natural habitat), their malevolent DeathBeat is an instant fix if you’re looking for something utterly murderous. Here, their core sound remains intact through 2 minute face-melters like “May God Damn All Of Us”, “Epidemic” or the conveniently named “Short One”. While these short but sweet blastorama outbursts are fun in the same way, say, watching “Driller Killer” with a few beers and some mates are however, they’re the most disposable moments here as the band stretch their blackened wings further than before.
Let’s get this out of the way: calling a song “Post Mortem Nihilist”, and having the song in question sound a bit like Nihilist covering “Post Mortem” by Slayer is an exceptionally cheeky move – luckily it works and provides one of the album’s highlights, being a mid paced head banger that will lodge itself in your head almost immediately. But the crawling horror of “Heretic Temple” is the winner here, showing a slower, more atmospheric side to the band without sacrificing intensity or heft in the process. It’s a relatively simple song, but it’s just one of those tracks you hear every once in a while that engulfs you whole. Similarly, the hidden track placed after the fade out of the closing “Seven Billion Graves” devotes itself to this Neanderthal crawl and closes things in a fine, bleak burst of slow motion apocalypse.
There are still some moments where it gets a little too samey to be honest, to reliant on going for the throat, and seemingly stuck in the same key and structure. That was the problem with “Salve” – it seemed like they’d written three songs and just rewritten them enough times to fill an album in an effort to be as violent as possible. But while there are still a couple of tracks that seem like filler, here it’s a forgivable offence. They have enough quality blazers like the opening title track or “Vermin of Dust” in their repertoire this time around to show just how much the quality of their songwriting has progressed, and to hook listeners eager for something more than speed. In fact in retrospect, “Salve et Coagula” now seems like a demo for this collection of songs.
The Secret know how to write brutal, skull crushing songs; that much we already knew. Here, they prove that they can add a little more dynamic, and a little more mood with stronger results. And as they get in the van and tear around the globe as they undoubtedly will for the next year or so, it makes me curious to see how they’ll develop between this album and the next. “Agnus Dei” is their strongest entry yet, but what’s most exciting about it is that it suggests new paths for the band to go down next time. Their best may well be yet to come.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes