When I was in my school concert band everyone pretty much just played as loud as they could all the time, and because the balance of instruments was determined by what kids wanted to play, not by what was needed, you ended up with too many trumpets drowning out other instruments. If the music itself occasionally had no notes for the trumpets to play, you wouldn’t hear the clarinets, let alone flutes.
There’s a lot of music out there that follows much the same principle – no dynamics, all glory to the singer save for a short middle eight or breakdown. Thankfully, if you’re reading this you’re from that part of the population that appreciates the nuance, the dynamics, the disparate sounds that make up music that has artistic merit. Music like “To Sail Black Waters” by Secrets of the Sky.
The sound is at times doom, post metal, progressive rock, black metal and more, with influences from Isis, Opeth and the like but you can also hear a bit of Cult of Luna and the swirling synth-strings of melodic black metal. Song structures are flowing and disregard verse and chorus. The band calls it blackened progressive doom and that’s a pretty good description so let’s stick with that.
You get four songs on the album for a running time around 42 minutes, although shame on you if you don’t listen to this from start to finish each time. I’m not sure why bands release vids or streams of one song in advance for this type of album, as the band has done, which is like putting out 20 minutes from the middle of a movie before it’s released. The strength of a record like this is in its vastness.
On the whole this is heavy music that pulls you down into a mire of filth, despair and misery, quick to respond when you manage to raise your head above the grime for more than a few seconds. Despite having three guitars available they are condors, not peacocks, frequently soaring but forever ready to pick at the rotting carcass of humanity. They do their best work slicing away methodically at ground level. Keys/synth are also shared among three of the band, but they are subtle in creating layers, depth and atmosphere – it’s not a symphonic metal album. Drums and bass do plenty and help reinforce an undercurrent of arpeggios that tick us closer and closer to oblivion, driving the explosive crescendos, solidifying the doom and remain quiet when required.
All this combines to create vivid imagery, whether it be a huge lumbering beast from your nightmares around the 3:30 mark of opener ‘Winter’, with tortured wailing guitars atop the giant’s huge earth-shaking footprints, or the destructive chaos of the closing stages of ‘Decline’ as cities crumble.
The feature which stands out the most, though, is the vocals. No there are not two or three singers, it’s just the one, Garett Gazay, but not only does he slide between clean and harsh vocals, there are three distinct and distinctive growls that he calls on as well as whispered words and an almost angelic passage near the close of ‘Black Waters’. It’s the sort of variety found in the combination of Xenyor’s multiple styles of harsh vocals and Tim Charles’ expansive range in Ne Ovliviscaris, and adds so much more emotion and texture to the songs, especially given their length. The straight singing enhances the more proggy guitar sections such as around the four minute mark of ‘Decline’ as it contrasts with the swirling synth and vomitous growls at other points in the song. ‘Sunrise’ sees the clean vocals dig deep then lift before two different harsh vocals trade lines – this could be too much, but it simply is not.
While many two- and three-piece guitar acts continue to make up for a lack of numbers with an excess of noise, six-piece Secrets of the Sky use subtlety and dynamics to deliver a valuable and distinctive contribution to the tidal wave of progressive metal that we are enjoying at the moment.