It’s no secret1 that Secret Sphere hasn’t seen a lot of love over their twenty year career. On top of being snubbed from AMG’s most prestigious of lists, their distinctly Italian take on the Euro-power formula has never come close to breaking away from second-rate status, and the band itself isn’t entirely free from blame. Though they’ve always been capable of writing excellent songs, their older records suffer from scattershot quality and crummy vocals, and it was only in 2012 with Portrait of a Dying Heart and the introduction of former Vision Divine vocalist Michele Luppi that it felt like they finally got the ball 2 rolling in terms of consistency​. Even with how promising that record was, I could have never anticipated the direction its follow-up would take. Far from what most fans would expect (or even want) from a Secret Sphere album, The Nature of Time is a total rethinking of the band’s approach, and one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve encountered all year.

The Nature of Time reminds me much less of Secret Sphere‘s older works than it does Sonata Arctica’s The Days of Grays. It’s a similarly ambitious cocktail of power metal and progressive rock with a generous side helping of symphonic dressings, and although AMG Himself will probably fire me for saying this, I think that The Nature of Time bests that album at this fusion. The band clearly retains an immense love for their power metal roots as displayed in TNoT’s exuberant bouts of ripping speed (“Courage,” “The Awakening”), yet they feel just as confident in their more ambitious compositions. Songs like “Faith” and “Reliance” excel through intriguing dualities where quick, staccato metal riffs in the verses give way to softer, melodic prog rock refrains. Secret Sphere handles these stylistic shifts as though they built their entire career on them, leaving me puzzled as to why it took them so long to stray from the beaten path.

Secret Sphere‘s​ ability to balance traditional power metal sounds with melodic rock airiness transcends that of their peers, but TNoT is too soft, too often. There are three ballads on this thing, and while I would normally lump it in with the piles of other power metal records bogged down by embarrassing ballads, its fluffiest, fruitiest numbers kinda won me over in the end. That’s not to say they’re particularly engaging or free from dreadful lyrics (“Pillow talk is where our hearts belong” is the cringiest lyric I’ve heard in recent memory), but rather elevated by the record’s perpetually catchy hooks and excellent production. TNoT is an impeccably engineered record, its guitars, symphonic arrangements, synthesizers and electronic effects methodically layered while never leaving the bass guitar behind. It never sounds overcrowded, and even manages guitar and drum tones that sound like they belong on a metal record. If you’re searching for an example of how the “modern” power metal sound should be properly handled, look no further.

Fantastic production on a power metal album is nothing without memorable tunes that deliver proper emotional peaks, and in this regard, Secret Sphere more than delivers. “The Calling” in particular is a stunning track, sporting dramatic symphonic arrangements and a terrific chorus that recalls Voyager in terms of unconventional catchiness. “Reliance” is another winner, mimicking DGM’s effortless likability through its technical riffs and cheesy verses, while instrumental “Commitment” sports an infectiously funky mid-section that sounds like it could’ve been ripped from the Persona 5 soundtrack. All tracks are linked through thoughtfully composed interludes that never feel gimmicky, and the record is elevated further by Luppi’s distinct, flexible pipes and the ridiculous chops of new drummer Marco Lazzarini. From his Neil Peart-ian tom fills to his engaging kick patterns, Lazzrini brings a spark to his performances sorely absent from most genre releases.

The Nature of Time isn’t so much a a long awaited fulfillment of Secret Sphere’s potential as it is a complete reconstruction of their sound. It’s a colorful, well-rounded3 and immensely likable record with lush production, and thanks to the nuanced performances and instrumental layering, I’m still making discoveries a dozen or so listens later. Its excessive ballads, though good, bar me from making giving it a higher score that I was oh-so-tempted to hand out; even so, I have a feeling this will be very close to the top of my favorite power metal albums of the year.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Frontiers Records
Websites: secretsphere.org | facebook.com/secretsphere
Releases Worldwide: June 2nd, 2017

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Not sorry.
  2. A sphere, even! (still not sorry)
  3. Still not sorry.

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  • Daniribalbert

    Michele Luppi might not be Jorn, but he’s a damn good singer.

  • Frost15

    mmm it lacks dragons but Luppi is great…

    • Eldritch Elitist

      Then imagine dragons.

      • Fnys

        Imagine Dragons ain’t metal at all… more rock? ;)

  • rumour_control

    A circular gem (not even remotely sorry).

  • Tom Swinnen

    Got to hear this. I love Luppi. One of the absolute best vocalists in power metal right now, in my opinion.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      He’s been one of the best for a long time.

    • CarvedInStone

      Indeed. If you ask me it is a shame that he was kicked out of Vision Divine in favor of Fabio Lione.

      • Tom Swinnen

        Absolutely. I lost interest in Vision Divine after his departure. Had nothing to do with the music, but I just can’t stomach Fabio Lione in Vision Divine. When he’s bringing the cheese in Rhapsody I love him, and his new project Eternal Idol is actually pretty good, but Vision Divine needed Luppi to really shine. I had been hoping for Secret Sphere to fill the void left by such amazing albums as “The Perfect Machine” and “The 25th hour”, and maybe with this album they’ll succeed? I’ll give it a few spins.

        • Nick Rzeczkowski

          Fabio’s vocals on the last two VD albums are much easier to stomach. The albums still don’t touch The Perfect Machine, but are worth checking out.

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    Is that a S P H E R E I see on this album cover?

    • [not a Dr]

      And they also wrote it, in case it went unnoticed.

  • JohnC

    Luppi is a fantastic vocalist, but the vocals sound too loud in the embedded track’s mix.

    • David D.

      I agree, it sounds like the vocalist is right up on you while the instruments are at the far end of the room.

      • JohnC

        Spot on.

    • Agree. I think this album is great but calling it “impeccably engineered” is a reach. The vocals are way too loud. Probably the worst thing about the album.

    • Tom Swinnen

      Exactly. Vocals are so loud in the mix. It’s like they were thinking: “We have Luppi, who cares about these other guys in the band?”

      • JohnC

        I’ve heard loud mixes, but it’s such a shame here because it makes it close to unlistenable IMO. The performances are awesome, but it just sounds… off

  • These backing vocals in the chorus bring Mac from Threshold to my mind…
    Solid track overall. Surprisingly restrained with cheese and bombast, as for italian power metal.

  • Wes Allen

    Those clocks are not spherical. Disappointed.

  • David D.

    This Secret Sphere album is twice as secret as Hemispheres.

  • CarvedInStone

    That is a Frontiers release. They provided promotional downloads for this and not for Jorn’s latest release? So they decide on an album-by-album bases whether they give out downloads or not? Seems random.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      Good observation. They actually provide us with promos about a day before the album’s release date. We did receive the promo for Jorn’s latest, but Steel Druhm opted not to cover it as we typically don’t review records unless we can have our write-ups completed before the release date. I was particularly interested in this album, so I was given permission to review it anyway, but usually we ignore their releases because it’s impossible to review them before they drop.

      • This was likely the last Frontiers review for the time being as streams followed by a late promo don’t work well with out timetable.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      I should clarify that we also receive stream links further in advance, but only the person who receives the link has access to it. Madam X had the stream for this album several days before I actually got the chance to hear it.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    fantastico!

  • Nukenado

    Wait wait wait. Modern Euro-power…
    Having a restrained intro?! DR8?! And vocals that are well rounded and can switch from soft to over-the-top?
    Bless this band.

  • jetblindracos

    There’s a band by the name Concordea with a vocalist that sounds pretty much like Luppi if anyone is interested.

  • madhare

    Interesting. Might be a bit too sugary/poppy for me but based on your review I’ll give it a go.

  • Lithophyte

    Formaggio! So, so much formaggio.

  • herrschobel

    oh man … i keep telling people (who lack the capacity to differentiate between the gazillion sub genres) that i listen to metal. If they think THIS is Metal i am screwed.

    • You wot m8?

      Better clear that browser history…

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Totally can see the Kakko similarly in the vocals….especially in his screams.
    Not quite as goofy as Days of the Greys is at times though….

  • You wot m8?

    Why do power metal albums always have this “we threw the album art together in 35 minutes with photoshop” thing? Not saying it’s terrible, but you can always tell when something’s gonna be power metal.

    • Lavatron

      Then I’m gonna say it: It’s terrible. The trick is, to not make it look too artificial, even it is artificial. And this just looks, well… artificial.

  • Vassago Gamori

    Due to damage at the fear factory my secret sphere has some scar symmetry…

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I don’t like all this pillow talk around here, children may be reading!!

  • AnnieK13

    It’s a bit on the “poppy” side but I really like the vocalist…I think I will have to listen to this one all the way through.