Company: Lupus Lounge Release: 2009 Genre: Black Reviewer: Etiam
Obscured by dense clouds of their own design
Through its title track intro, 'Privilegivm' could masquerade as a Ruins of Beverast LP. Heavily echoing male choir, droning guitars, muffled but booming tom rolls...the works. Second track 'Sulphur' puts that thought to rest, though, with characteristic Secrets of the Moon grandeur. The high frequency roll-off retreats, the hi-hat starts its tattoo, and the first of many wailing guitar leads fades in. Within moments, Secrets is back into the business they know best: headbanging, mid-tempo marches full of descending tom fills, chugging guitars, half-snarled, half-grunted vocals, and ominous chorus motives. For a while, it seems like the three years since 'Antithesis' haven't brought much change to this German camp.
Never afraid of an epic, Secrets of the Moon lay it on thickly here, with only the intro and an interlude coming in under two minutes. Every other song breaks seven, two breach eight, and a three-part centerpiece, 'Harvest', comes in at 13:28. Pretty ambitious numbers for a band with barely any hummable riffs. But then again, listening to a Secrets album isn't typically an anthemic experience. It's more like watching Milton's Lucifer call his legion to arms. And in this regard, 'Privilegivm' delivers as we have come to expect. (The album artwork is a pleasant complement, featuring a modernist, multi-textured take on the archetypal apple and serpent. How many metal albums have just a picture of fruit on their cover? Secrets have moxie, that's for sure.)
After shuffling through yet another second guitarist, Secrets recorded this album as a trio, with sG handling all guitar and vocal duties (they have since become a quartet again). Bassist LSK is also new, and purportedly had a significant impact on the making of 'Privilegivum'--most of the time, it's difficult to tell. She does swim to the surface during the staccato-heavy 'Black Halo' and 'Harvest', and also provides the album's spoken female vocals, but she mostly shadows sG's lines and keeps a low profile. Thelemnar, once again, shows his worth as a drummer in matching sG riff for riff and making his unique presence felt without overplaying the kit. As ever, he demonstrates that metal percussion need not break speed records to be heavy (see also Enslaved's Cato Bekkevold). Perhaps this is why LSK is tougher to pick out--with Thelemnar playing so central a role in Secrets' sound, there's less need for a prominent bassist. Otherwise, the album's production is consistent, full, and clear, if not dazzling in any specific regard.
So far, it's sounding like a solid album on paper. But, there is something different this time around that doesn't add up. See, the trouble with marching music is that it doesn't often have much of a narrative, being so concerned with setting a steady pace. After somehow avoiding this conundrum for a couple albums, its seems to have finally caught up to our soldiers of Satan.
On 'Privilegivm', the anthems tend to be less memorable, and some of the good ones are essentially repeats from past efforts ("Lucifer...Speaks!" could be easily laid over the central riff to 'Queen of Rats'). Also, the arrangements are too "labyrinthine" (this was cited as a particular benefit from introducing LSK), and the moody dissonance occasionally feels contrived. Bizarrely, a hung-over Metallica sprang to mind at a few points, which isn't very evil at all. The clean opening of 'A Million Suns', in addition to being slightly out of tune, sounds straight from the 'Unforgiven' school, as is the undeveloped 'Shepard' solo.
To their credit, Secrets have incorporated a couple interesting ideas on 'Privilegivm' to help spice up its 65-minute length. The vocals are a bit more dynamic, a few more solos pop up, and even some low brass arrives to give 'I Maldoror' a thumping and severe payoff riff. 'A Million Suns' makes up for its tepid beginning with a seething climax, featuring a solo drum 'riff' that echoes a guitar line from earlier, and some well-placed slicing harmonics from sG. Strings make a brief appearance in 'Harvest' and hint at a rousing climax, but pull back in favor of yet another plodding, irresolute transition riff. Altogether, Secrets have plenty of distinctive ideas and aren't afraid to use them, but this time around the fruit just isn't so sweet.
Part of what gave 'Antithesis' its punch was its length--at 58 minutes, it was hardly a runt, but it is the lone sub-hour LP in the band's past three. If Secrets had trimmed about 10 minutes of angsty build-ups or mediocre riffs from 'Privilegivm', it'd be a more nimble and simply better album. Centerpiece 'Harvest' is a case in point, spending five-and-a-half minutes building up to its verse, which itself feels a bit like just another build-up riff. 'Shepard' could have been completely cut without losing much (sG is commended for trying the clean vocals, but they don't really work), which would have made 'Descent' an outro in truth, instead of just sounding like one.
So, perhaps, in the end 'Privilegivm' is indeed a step towards the impenetrable and frankly unpleasant Ruins of Beverast, whose sole member Alex von Meilenwand doesn't know the meaning of brevity to begin with and could never be accused of catchiness. But, frustratingly, the brilliant parts of Secrets of the Moon are obscured by dense clouds of their own design, leaving 'Privilegivm' somewhere between forgettable and above average. It's not that this album requires more time to 'sink in'; it's that we weren't given enough good material to sink in-TO. Meanwhile, the eldritch genius of Meilenwand continues to wax above Germany.
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