Remember Amaranthe? Say what you want about them as a metal band (which, if you’re being six figure tax return levels of charitable, would be “not so great”), but as a pop band they’re alright. Massive Addictive was catchy, regardless of the fact that it was meticulously crafted by Swedish pop robots, made of 100% candy-coated processed cheese, and equal in substance to a sugar rush. Italy’s Secret Rule is pure processed cheese too, but it’s the Kraft Singles that you left out in the sun after a weekend barbecue and would feel bad giving to your friend on a sandwich as a prank. For those of you who don’t know the joy of Kraft Singles (and thus a masterful grilled cheese), this means that Secret Rule’s second record Machination doesn’t exactly float my boat. Contrarily, my musical tastes may as well be the Spanish Armada and these alt-metallers the Royal Navy. So let’s explore Spanish naval history and examine my metaphorical musical taste vessel, as we can rent the same glass-bottom boat for both.
If I wrote the stickers that go on the fronts of CDs, I would say that Machination is recommended if you think Amaranthe is too heavy and that modern Lacuna Coil would be better if they were less catchy. If you like non-stop alt-metal chugging with some mediocre keyboards that spice the proceedings up in the same way playing Neurosis at a house party would, then you’re in luck. On the heaviness spectrum, we’re looking at somewhere between Evanescence and Saliva, but amusingly ignorant aggro party rock and Amy Lee’s vocals sadly don’t make an appearance here. If you heard Dark Adrenaline and thought that its songwriting recipe was mediocre, Machination mixes up flour with baking soda, replaces sugar with salt, and then leaves it in the oven for too long.
If the whole of Machination was like “The Image” it would fare a wee bit better. Angela Di Vincenzo carries this track with her limited vocals, and the simple piano melody that forms the entire song is good enough to be one of those sad-but-not-too-sad songs which are fleetingly enjoyable as pop music; it’s high-fructose melancholic mediocrity. It doesn’t come close to the calculated catchiness of Amaranthe or the okay-ness of modern Lacuna Coil, sounding instead like a pale imitation of the Platonic form of meh. Given that the third paragraph is generally the part where we say nice things about records here at AMG, you’d better break out your sleds, folks: it’s all downhill from here.
If I were a Rock n’ Roll Doctor, I would diagnose Secret Rule with terminal Dragonforce Syndrome: I have to constantly check my player to see if a new song started, or if it’s the same one with a weak transition. The poor and incessantly similar songwriting choices that pepper Machination could make distinguishing between in-song transitions and new songs beginning a fun drinking game if you take a shot when you’re wrong, provided you like alcohol poisoning. This sort of record lives and dies by its leading melodies, and given that the guitars are as devoted to chugging as a college student intent on breaking a worldwide kegstand record, the vocals de facto take up the mantle. Unfortunately, every song tries to break out huge hooks but all of them fail outright. “I Will” sounds like the most flaccid and tired Euro-power metal ever recorded in its chorus and the bridge features Signoria Di Vincenzo doing a weird Geddy Lee impression while seemingly singing an entirely different song. “A Mother” is bland lowbrow cheesy balladry, and Di Vincenzo does so much needless vibrato that it sounds like she was operating a jackhammer while performing the vocals. If true, this would be a marvel in audio engineering because I didn’t hear a jackhammer in the background. Incidentally, such a recording achievement would be far and away the most valuable and impressive thing on Machination.
There’s nothing Secret Rule does here that would make me want to listen to them in any capacity. Machination is low-rent poppy alt-metal in sound and production, inspiring boredom and the burning desire to listen to pretty much anything else. There are fewer hooks here than on a pirate with all of his appendages fully intact, the occasional and arbitrary growled vocals sound like an irritating mid-size dog, and Di Vincenzo, the star of the show, utterly fails to sing a memorable hook, verse, or bridge throughout. Listening to this is like speed dating if all of the girls were uninteresting, irritating, and woefully unattractive: no matter how many times you switch partners, it just doesn’t get any better.