It’s no secret that I have been a huge fan of latter-day Secrets of the Moon since their last album in 2012, Seven Bells. I even wrote a favorable review of 2014’s Gehenna, the debut EP from frontman sG’s side-project, Crone. As I said in that article, Secrets of the Moon is a band with a distinctive tone and style; from the first riff, it’s obvious who is playing. Even with a brand new rhythm section, Secrets of the Moon retain their signature sound, even while they bring on the next iteration of their distinctively clean and melodic take on black metal.
On Sun, the band has left blast-beats and screaming behind almost completely in favor of basic rock-style drumming and sG’s distinctive clean singing voice. When blast-beats do appear, they are traditional and not uptempo. With the exception of the album’s opener, ‘No More Colours’, and the epic finisher, ‘Mark of Cain’, the blasts seem like an element the band still felt obligated to include here and there rather than a tool used to raise the intensity of the songs.
With concerns of speed and nastiness mostly far behind, the band is now wearing their influences on their sleeves in a way that they could only hint at in the past. ‘Dirty Black’ checks early-‘70s progressive rock off the list, like King Crimson on a bad trip. The chorus of backing vocals and a layer of strummed acoustic guitars—which are difficult to hear but are present throughout the album—create a sort of counterpoint that is almost unheard-of in extreme metal songs – and I am by no means sure that Secrets of the Moon fall under this umbrella anymore. On any other day, with any other band, that would be a stinging indictment, but for Secrets of the Moon, it feels like an inevitable next step in the direction they’ve been leaning towards for years.
More than one moment on the album sounds like heavy gothic rock, almost using Fields of the Nephilim or the Mission as a starting point. I could swear the final riffs of ‘I Took the Sky Away’ and ‘Man Behind the Sun’ were cropped straight from God’s Own Medicine, and the latter is a hook so good it should have been flogged to death for three minutes or more instead of a mere forty-five seconds. Clean electric guitar dominates during these passages, while the distorted guitars provide reverb and delay-soaked backing without any straightforward heavy riffing at all.
While Secrets of the Moon is still indulging in their love for more meandering, jamming intros and outros, Sun also sees an increase in epic, anthemic choruses and hooks that just will not let go, such as in the halfway point of ‘Hole’. That song is a catchy, fist-pumping banger that could have almost been a Type O Negative jam if it had been sped up and crammed with guitar solos, while ‘I Took the Sky Away’ sounds like classic Katatonia: dark, mid-paced gothic metal with clean singing and simple but effective melodies and hooks.
One complaint I’ve heard leveled against Sun is that it should have been a Crone full-length, and then Secrets of the Moon could get on with the business of making harsher, biting black metal again. The similarities between contemporary Secrets of the Moon and Crone, of course, can’t be discounted. The vocals, riffs, leads, and even the dynamic changes throughout the songs are all fairly similar, but these elements have been present in the band’s music for years at this point. Sun simply has more than previous albums did. For those who don’t like the changes Secrets of the Moon have undergone recently: nobody’s taking Antithesis away from you. For everybody else: Sun doesn’t reach the transcendent heights of Privilegivm or Seven Bells (the latter especially was an instant, perfect classic album for me), but the latest evolution in the band’s sound is anything but a misstep. I’ll be spinning this platter for a long time to come.
01) No More Colours
02) Dirty Black
03) Man Behind the Sun
05) Here Lies the Sun
06) I Took the Sky Away
07) Mark of Cain