Both AMG and myself have been pretty rough on black metal over the past year or so, and God knows I’ve felt burned out on the style at times. I’ve chided the scene for its lack of innovation and bitched like a school girl about the overuse of cheesy symphonics. As exasperated as I may sometimes get with the scene, when the style works, it can be powerful and captivating like none other. Along comes Secrets of the Moon with their fifth album, Seven Bells, and they bring innovation, a bit of experimentation and some balls. Sporting an effective sound mixing elements of Satyricon with the heavy doom of Celtic Frost and Winter, Secrets of the Moon drifts from the style found on 2009’s Privilegvm. In the process, they’ve created an album that’s diverse, surprising, and at times, quite challenging. Seven Bells is brooding, meandering black metal that defies genre conventions and keeps the listener guessing. One moment it feels accessible and familiar, the next, inscrutable and cold (like some girls I know). Throughout, they do their own thing, and with black metal, that goes a long way with me. I wish their willingness to innovate was enough, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always gel into top quality music, and a few of their ideas fall flat. While not a complete success, Seven Bells is a step in the right direction and tries to shake up a fairly static medium.
Secrets of the Moon write some long-winded compositions. Some here exceed twelve minutes. When the songs work, the length isn’t an impediment. However, when they don’t quite work, things can get a bit ugly. That’s the main story on Seven Bells. Some of the tracks are money, some are un-money. The title track creeps and lurks with a winningly ominous, foreboding vibe and effectively lurches between blasting and heavy doom segments. There’s more feeling on this one song than some entire albums. There are lots of interesting details that unfold with repeated listening and it just works (especially the solo beginning at 5:30). “Goathead” roars out like classic Bathory circa The Return, before morphing into a herky-jerky example of Celtic Frosty black doom with freaky multi-tracked screams and gurgles. The big surprise comes with “Serpent Messiah,” which incorporates a unique black n’ roll approach, totally unlike the rest of the material. It’s accessible and rockin with some gothic metal sensibility like Gothminister or latter-day Paradise Lost.
It’s the back-end of Seven Bells that starts to unspool. While “Worship” has some interesting ideas, cool doom riffs and incorporates melodic riffing well, it drags on too long. “Nyx” has loads of atmosphere but also wears out its welcome by being overlong and meandering (especially the ambient wind-down that goes on for almost FOUR minutes???). Closer “The Three Beggars” is the worst offender of the lot and takes a basic song structure and shellackes you with it for almost thirteen minutes. Holy Metallica-itis Batman! That’s right Robin. Now quickly, to the Bat-Editor!!
I know, I know. I bitch if a black metal band doesn’t innovate, then I have the gall to bitch when they DO innovate. But wait, there is much good here worth commenting on. They incorporate heavy doom into the black metal construct in much the same way as fellow countrymen Helrunar did on their excellent Sol release. While Secrets of the Moon doesn’t pull it off quite as well, it still works. The guitar tone is big, ugly and heavier than what most black metal bands employ (thanks to production by none other than Tom G. Warrior himself). Likewise, vocalist sG goes for an effectively rough, hoarse bellow, not far removed from what Mr. Warrior did in his Celtic Frost salad days. It works and I enjoyed his performance throughout, especially his attempts to be more melodic on “Serpent Messiah.” The riffs from AR are solid and occasionally exceptional (“see “Blood Into Wine”). If only the songs themselves were better constructed and condensed, this would really be a humdinger.
So, Seven Bells has some hits and misses, but overall, it’s a respectable attempt to do things differently and I applaud them for it. It’s more adventurous than their last album, but the songs aren’t as consistent as before. If they take their core sound and atmosphere and hone the writing, good things are bound to happen. Definitely worth a listen for those looking for a little variety in their blackness. Cool cover too!