I’ve learned a lot in the short time since I was plucked from the unwashed commentariat and installed in the AMG writers’ room. I’ve learned the sound a n00b makes when they’re cast into the skull pit. I’ve learned the real identities of my fellow writers, but am sworn to secrecy (just between you and me, Muppet is an actual muppet and TheKenWord is a very friendly golden retriever). Most importantly, I’ve learned that when it comes to the promo sump, metalcore sneaks in the back door. This makes sense. we at AMG like to joke about all things -core, so why explicitly say it’s an influence in your promo? Why not say you play post-metal, and when you’re safe inside the city gates, sneak out of that Trojan horse and stab the shit out of us with your VERY EARNEST SCREAMING and siq breakdowns? And so it is that I find myself reviewing Sacrifices, the second full-length from Germany’s A Secret Revealed. Granted, that’s a very core-y name, so any surprises are really on me.
While I’m being even handed, I must also admit there are only a couple of quasi-breakdowns, and indeed plenty of post-metal, as well as sustained bursts of blackened intensity spicing things up on Sacrifices. When each element is given breathing room, the results are highly affecting. The three-track run of “Ashes,” “Old Ghosts,” and “Empty Throne” expresses the full range of A Secret Revealed‘s various flavors. Each song is a slightly different cocktail with the same base ingredients: Deftones with far more ferocity, Old Man Gloom with cleaner edges, and the emotive sensibilities of Agalloch‘s “Limbs.” Shake with blackened riffing and pour over vocals turned up to eleven. The melodies throughout tend to be simple but stirring, and the blast beats and chugging riffs eviscerate and pummel in turns. “Old Ghosts” especially captures the band at its most post-metal, and is one of the album highlights. If at this point you’re saying “This sounds pretty interesting,” you’d be right. There are, however, issues.
A Secret Revealed have exactly two emotional settings: “Very Big Feelings” and “Build-up to Very Big Feelings.” I hate to chalk this up to the band’s melodic hardcore tendencies, but whether it’s barely contained angst, tough guy chest thumping or the emotional equivalent of a show about a vampire who falls in love with a mortal high schooler on the CW, the genre as a rule isn’t well-suited to emotional nuance. This is not necessarily a problem, especially for the under-30 crowd—after all, that’s when I packed in most of my own hardcore listening—but for some of us in the student loans repayment phase of life, this can get exhausting. Speaking of, there’s a reason most albums with -core leanings end in 40 minutes or less, but Sacrifices dispenses with this conventional wisdom. With eight songs covering 56 minutes, each could lose a full 60 seconds without sacrificing any of the album’s strengths.
The best aspects of Sacrifices, namely the balance of pretty-ish clean, quiet moments with enormous walls of blackened blasts, tasteful tremolo and driving riffs, are unfortunately dulled through repetition. Opener “Grieved” is a roller coaster of emotions on the first few listens, but after multiple spins of the full album, the highs and lows of even that song flatten out. Songs like “The Isolation” that lean especially heavy on fast and loud become brick walls of exhaustion. Michael Heim’s half-roar, half-scream vocals are capably done and no where near the most grating out there, but they are delivered with the same intensity and volume throughout the 56 minutes of Sacrifices. Some variation or clean passages here or there would almost certainly strengthen the overall package.
Many of the songs on Sacrifices, taken in isolation, would rate higher than the score below. Some, like “Old Ghosts,” are even great. They are uniformly stirring, intense, and well played, and would fit nicely in a playlist titled POWER FEELS. In terms of album craft, however, this uniformity is the major drawback. An hour’s worth of loud, quiet, loud, loud, and very earnest screaming is a lot to ask of a listener. I suspect this album will hit hard for some. I also doubt I’ll ever play it front to back again.