There’s a category of music you don’t see much outside certain nerd circles, that of the “filk song,” or fan-fiction-as-music, even in a genre as intrinsically nerdy as metal. Oh, sure, you can rattle off a number of prominent examples, even excluding edge cases like Symphony X’s Paradise Lost.1 Hell, a sizable chunk of Blind Guardian‘s output falls firmly in this camp. But overall, it’s not as big a thing as you might expect, especially on the poppier side of the genre. So imagine my surprise when, slogging through the wasteland of the promo bin, I discover an album by a band billing themselves under “melodic metal,”2 written around Neil Gaiman’s classic The Sandman. It’s a perfect storm of my interests: melodic cheese, comics nerdery, and maybe, just maybe a compositional shitshow. The band is even Italian to boot! I am drawn inexorably, like a moth to flame, to Secret Rule‘s The 7 Endless.
To my pleasure and most likely your disappointment, this doesn’t suck! In fact, it might even be good, although that’s likely contentious, given that this band is too poppy to even be acknowledged by the elitist cesspit over at Metal Archives. The 7 Endless is an album that opts for a slow, consistent build; opening with the pomp and fanfare of “The Endless,” it accelerates through a couple rougher-edged tracks before reaching a one-two punch of a crescendo in “Desire” and “Alone,” riding respectively triumphant and melancholy key and vocal melodies over agile riff-craft. This is not to say that those rougher tracks should be discounted. “Birth” offers lovely contrast between the guitar and drums, all in service of further contrast to highlight vocalist Angela di Vicenzo, while “Dream” offers a somber contemplation reflective of its namesake immortal. The degree to which the band has drawn thematic and auditory inspiration from the albums namesakes3 is both impressive and to a certain degree surprising. The highlight of Endless’s back-half is easily the surging penultimate song “Destruction,” but it’s noticeably weaker than any of the first five tracks, tied with the rollicking riffage and (slightly!) melismatic vocal hooks of “Destiny.”
As might be suggested by the sudden jump there, the back-half of the album is a bit tepid, with a lot of somewhat bland songwriting and iffier musical ideas, like the lumbering kick and snare pattern on the chorus of “Desperation.” More critical, however, is a consistent editing problem. The promo package suggests the band did more direct work on the production side than on previous records, which would explain a reluctance to edit, particularly for a band several albums in, but it’s a severe problem. The record clocks in at a full 49 minutes, but could stand to have a full twenty percent of that cut via editing and/or giving the tempo a boot to the ass on the back-half of the album. Preferably it would get both, as even the good tracks run a little overlong themselves.
Production-wise, the album is fairly typical for its wheelhouse with slick, plasticky production all around, albeit with a much less crushed master than expected. The mix, conversely, is unusually good with all instruments, the meaty bass in particular, coming through clear as a bell. If anything is buried in the slightest, it’s actually the keyboards, keeping them from burying the rhythm section as is so common. Special mention goes both to di Vicenzo’s warm, resonant mezzosoprano and Andy Menario’s adept guitar work. Menario, despite the band’s published description of him as the mastermind, really surprises here, never overtaking any songs with overly flashy wankery, opting instead to balance his contributions with those of the rest of the band. The only real performance complaint to be made is a desire for more consistently aggressive drumming. Nicola Corrente is clearly capable of slaying the kit, and should up his game a little more on future releases.
Secret Rule proved themselves full of surprises on this release. While not a band I was familiar with, they clearly have the skills to create fun, approachable music without completely sacrificing their metal edge. If you have any taste or tolerance for the lighter side of things, The 7 Endless is definitely an album worth checking out. Despite some obvious flaws, it’s a damn fun romp.