Sludge has gone full circle. Or, it has probably never betrayed its roots: after all, that rare mix of black hardcore, doom and overall pessimism has conquered many a heart in the name of the Unholy. So why change it? Italian The Secret, in fact, won’t. Their blend of all the aforementioned genres (and attitudes) is nothing more than a clever display of violence whose main purpose is, well, brutality as an end in itself. Beside the noble principles, the music is a vehement study on ferocity revolving around variations on the themes of hatred and overall hostility; a divertissement enhanced by the sheer cleverness shown by the band.
Agnus Dei opens with a blatantly black metal assault (the title-track) and ends all drenched in doom (“Seven Billion Graves”). This happens when your album comes out on Greg Anderson’s Southern Lord and none other than Converge’s Kurt Ballou produces it. Whatever lies in between is however, an effort the two personalities are surely proud of. In more than one way.
The Secret is first and foremost, a live band – and I don’t use this adjective light-heartedly. Their music is shaped by the prolonged tours they usually find themselves entangled with: its immediacy is the natural product of the lack of compromises that the stage forces you to come to terms with. If the former platter, Solve et Coagula was a mesmerizing collection of blasts at full speed, the sophomore effort wallows in pure sluggishness on, for instance, tracks like “Vermin Of Dust” or “Heretic Temple.” Here, repetitive, obstinate pace doesn’t alleviate the pain inflicted by more impulsive numbers.
“Obscure Dogma” is somehow reminiscent of the good old Swedish crust scene (Skitsystem, ça va sans dire) but the breaks, the tightness and the taste is properly metal. In other words, if the weapon of choice is punk, the style is death-pure and simple in all its dark elegance. There is no room for melody here, but nobody feels compelled to ask: the vicious thrusts of the guitar are of a primitive nature in their rawness and effectiveness, while the growling is a poisonous antidote to any hint of complacency.
There is beauty in Agnus Dei and this becomes almost tangible when you realise that the desperate invocations in “Darkness I Became” or “Violent infection” have completely annihilated any notion of climax: this is controlled chaos spawning nothing more than a negative, nihilist disorder rather than a vehement response to social injustice. There is beauty in the anticlerical rants of “May God Damn Us All” and there is beauty in the horrid guitar drones of “Love Your Enemy”.
The Secret have completely nailed it this time. This is a work for the pure of heart, for the simple-minded fellow blocking your way by walking slowly ahead of you, for all the people lagging behind and everyone else who live, waiting in vain for salvation. It’s the blackest hardcore and the heaviest punk you can possibly encounter this year. It is the sound of hate at full speed, high volume and immense power. This is the perfect soundtrack to your Act of Contrition: a desperate prayer falling on deaf ears. Forgiveness…then the pleasure to start again.