Secrets of the Moon – Black House Review

Bands change and sounds evolve. These are the most inescapable truisms in music regardless of genre, with only AC/DC and maybe Sodom resisting the inevitable flux. The last time I reviewed a Secrets of the Moon album way back in 2012 they were a somewhat progressive black metal act endeavoring to mix goth elements into their sound. That made Seven Bells an interesting spin and at the time I felt they might continue to progress in interesting ways. I somehow missed their 2015 followup, Sun where they took a shift toward Tiamat adjacent goth metal while retaining aspects of their black metal sound. The dichotomy between styles created a dynamic tension somewhat reminiscent of Woods of Ypres, but the merger didn’t completely work. Now, five years later we get Black House and that tension is gone. That’s because Secrets of the Moon no longer play black metal in any way, shape or form. Black House is 100% moody goth rock with fingers in the vaults of The Cult, The Beauty of Gemina and Lycia. I’m sure this won’t endear them to many of their original fans, but surprise, surprise, they’re really good at this style. Vocalist/guitarist Philipp Jonas is also the brains behind introspective sadboi act Crone and he’s proven himself quite adept at this kind of music. Black House does so yet again, offering an album’s worth of sullen, hook-laden goth rock that sticks in the sticking place and demands replays. If you’re not a frowny-faced black metal purist, that is.

It’s immediately clear this is a very different entity than heard on prior albums. Opener “Sanctum” is pure, unadulterated dark goth, not far from Fields of the Nephilim or The Cure‘s Disintegration era. It’s slickly done and the traces of Tiamat make it just ominous enough. It’s also very hooky, which never hurts. The inclusion of semi-harsh shouts near the end hint at the band’s heavier days, but it’s a distant echo at best. “Veronica’s Room” is the album single and it’s a true flypaper song. You land on it and you just can’t pull free. I’ve been spinning it like crazy for 2 weeks and it has me in its clutches still. It’s like The Cult, The Beauty of Gemina and early U2 all blended together and it’s a stealthy winner. Hell, it even reminds me of The Wallflowers a bit.  Another standout is “He is Here,” which incorporates the icy chill of Lycia into a classic goth rocker and the vocals sometimes adopt an Alice in Chains lilt for extra spice.

As the album wanders along, you’ll hear more nods to Tiamat, especially on “Heart,” where dark atmosphere and discordant riffing give birth to something that could have appeared on Wildhoney, or perhaps been included on the soundtrack for The Crow. It’s the heaviest song on the album and there are moments were the band teases a slip back into black metal that never quite materializes. There are a lot of slick, memorable moments over the course of Black House and it’s a very easy spin. There is however a tendency to extend songs a bit past their ideal end point, and cuts like the title track and “Mute God” suffer for it though they’re both still enjoyable tunes.1 Aside from that, this is a righteous collection of goth rocking tunes.

Philipp Jonas has a good voice for this kind of music. He’s got an unpolished but soulful mid-range croon and can convey emotion without resorting to cheap theatrics or Scent of a Werewolf vocal excesses. He exhibited more range and nuance on the Crone album, but delivers more aggressive vocals here well-suited to the goth/darkwave styles the band dabbles in. Guitar-wise, Jonas and Michael Zech demonstrate a rich understanding of goth rock history, borrowing from the greats without every sounding too derivative. The upbeat, rocked out stuff definitely has the feel of The Cult, and the more melancholic segments definitely take inspiration from The Cure and Lycia, but there’s enough of their own skin in the game to carry it off well. And the hooks, man, the hooks!

As far as band evolution goes, Secrets of the Moon may be one of the more extreme examples, taking a hard turn from extreme metal toward melodic, gothwave pastures, but it works, and I actually prefer Black House to any of their blackened era releases. They say play to your strengths, and it appears Philipp Jonas knows exactly where his lie. If you like goth rock, you should definitely check this out. If you only desire black metal, you have been utterly forsaken. Deal with it.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Lupus Lounge
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: May 8th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. “Mute God” also has a very similar guitar pattern to Autumnal‘s monster cut “A Tear from a Beast,” which is likely accidental but it’s distracting nonetheless.
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