May 4, 2020 Secrets of the Moon – Black House (Album Review)
For many artists, stagnation is death. For every five or six reliable bands out there who stay in their lane, there is bound to be a Secrets of the Moon running around somewhere. The Osnabruck, Germany collective has been lurking in the shadows since forming in 1995, emerging from their template of Black Metal sorcery into an evolved miasma of expression that is less and less interested in following what might be expected of them.
On Friday, May 8th, 2020, the band will release its seventh studio album via Lupus Lounge/Prophecy Productions. Entitled Black House, it boasts a gaggle of guest appearances and is surrounded by a palpable sense of achievement and excitement. After the departure that 2015’s Sun album turned out to be, it remains to be seen where Secrets of the Moon will find themselves heading now.
Fans expecting the rough and tumble Black Metal of earlier Secrets of the Moon releases should by now be prepared for what will happen when they press play on Black House. “Sanctum” rolls out with drifting, driving Rock-n-Roll tones and the impassioned clean vocals of sG (Phillip Jonas). Wistful melancholy, but not without power and an eldritch grace, it provides a perfect jumping-off point to an album that is far more than what it might seem at first glance.
Keys soaked in atmosphere, clear-voiced intonations with female accompaniment, the smooth “Don’t Look Now” wraps the listener in velvet embrace. This is no lighthearted foray into Pop-fusion psychedelia. There is darkness in this song, cast in dreamy shades of twilit emptiness. Classic Tristania, Theater of Tragedy, meets Dirt-era Alice in Chains and a whole lot more. Yet those of you who dislike anything to do with Grunge or Gothic Metal, take these comparisons with a grain of salt. They are meant as guideposts only, because Black House truly goes its own way. Fans who enjoyed “Man Behind The Sun” off 2015’s Sun will find similar territory, yet with more intent this time around.
“Veronica’s Room” is one of the catchiest numbers this side of the Sisters of Mercy. Certain countrymen and peers of Secrets of the Moon have spent whole careers trying to capture the silken, dark Rock loveliness of this song, which features contributions from none other than Matthias Landes of Dark Fortress. This one will trap itself in the ears for weeks, and you will sing it in the shower, the car, to your dog . . .
The album is not all up-tempo rhythms either. “Cotard” is a modern-day depressive ballad. It opens like the blackest flower towards the end, revealing a great deal of depth and richness. Rolling bass and percussive pulses keep it in the realm of the heavy. The title track builds on a very Sabbath-esque riff, another slow and slightly abrasive number which is enchanted by the presence of that mistress of the dark, Jarboe (ex-Swans). These are emotionally charged songs, tongues flicking the acid touch of sadness into the listener’s ears without once forgetting that its all about Rock-n-Roll. On “Heart,” we hear a majestic and psychedelic song replete with equal parts melody and percussive authority.
The bleak and hopeless anthem that is “Mute God” is perhaps the best song on the whole album. It winds up being as catchy as “Veronica’s Room,” but it gets there in a different way. Expansive and spilling over with funereal light, this is the soundtrack of the flowers slowly dying over a fresh grave. There are vocal harmonies that would make Devin Townsend’s quieter moments proud, and like all masters of the craft, they allow a song’s contingent parts to blend together into a discernible climax. It’s alchemy but with musical instruments; and this time they do manage to weave elements into gold.
After the torrid emotional crest which comprises most of the middle of the album, Secrets of the Moon is not done with you yet, loyal listener. The denouement is not some dreary instrumental, but another catchy tune that is somehow just as good as everything else before it. “Earth Hour” builds and holds tension while lovely vocal lines soar. What Secrets of the Moon have accomplished here is outstanding, flawless, and they do not waste a single note. Black House will be a serious contender for album of the year, which is why Cryptic Rock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.