Sometimes, a band really grabs you with an album from start to finish. Other times, an album can seem very disconnected in its various parts, and so the review can be difficult to write. Soul Secret is a band that I’ve been following since their 2011 album “Closer to Daylight”, and their brand new album “Babel” definitely falls into the weird funk of being both amazing and mediocre at the same time. So, this is certainly going to be one of those straightforward pros and cons reviews, as is the case for albums that are mixed bags.
Soul Secret hails from Italy, and you can definitely tell. The band consists of Lino Di Pietrantonio on vocals, Antonio Vittozzi on guitars, Luca Di Gennaro on keyboards, Claudio Casaburi on bass, and Antonio Mocerino on drums. The band officially lands in the progressive metal genre, though I’m not so sure about that any more. Let me elaborate on that a bit.
This is the band’s fourth album, but there have been three different singers since they first started. I think that is representative of the general trends in this band. Soul Secret is one of those bands that is always changing, but you often get the idea that the changes aren’t really progression as much as a search for their own sound and identity. The band sounds quite different than their first few albums, mainly due to the changes in vocalists, but even the style of music has begun to drift into whole new genres. Originally, Soul Secret was just this pure blooded progressive metal band that rocked. “Closer to Daylight” was a balls-to-the-walls progressive metal machine, and I loved it. The band has slowly been leaving that behind; on “Babel”, the band has started to throw in djent, some world music influences, and a huge portion of straight progressive rock. In fact, it’s difficult to place this album in the progressive metal genre overall. Now, I don’t really care about genres that much, but I’m trying to give you the big picture here: Soul Secret is changing, but I’m not sure they know where they are going.
The stylistic changes here mean that the album likes to switch back and forth between genres, but it never feels all that natural. So, we get some djent-like riffs sometimes, and some blues and world music portions from time to time, but most of the album is heavy progressive rock in the vein of Haken now. In fact, “Newton’s Law” sounds like it could be right off Haken’s “The Mountain”. The album also has moments of an ethereal, ambient quality; and there is a significant amount of dialogue that pushes the story forward track by track. However, for all the changes in style they have made, the pure passion and energy of their earlier releases still seem missing somehow, and the elements don’t completely converge into an organic package.
Setting the stage for the album, “Babel” features a concept about astronauts sent on the greatest mission in human history: a true search for God. As the story progresses, it becomes more about the astronauts themselves, and what they find ends up changing them and the whole world. Their fears and general emotions are out on full display through the whole process. I’ll come right out and say, though, that I’m not a fan of the story and where it ends, as it feels fairly naïve and ham-fisted, and it lacks common sense or a knowledge of philosophy. Additionally, it must be mentioned that the sequences of narration and voice acting are absolutely awful. I’m not sure if it’s a language barrier thing since the band is Italian, but the voice acting is very bad and the narration is pretty annoying. It doesn’t ruin the album for me, though.
So far, the album sounds like a total failure, I know. However, it is far from that. This album does seem strangely unbalanced, though. The first half of the album just doesn’t feel right for some reason, as the songs are fairly weak, though still interesting because of the story. The second half of the album, starting with “LogOS”, is where the sparks truly fly, and there are some immense moments that are absolutely stunning. For example, the first half starts with an awkward narration and some weirdly off kilter songs like “Will They?” that have no real flow and very uninteresting vocal lines. The second half, however, has fantastic songs like “Awakened by the Light” with truly glorious instrumentals and choruses.
That’s the crux of this review. The album has true cons like bad voice acting, a weak first half, and stylistic inconsistencies that don’t mesh. However, it all seems to come together in the second half of the album where the band suddenly offers some great vocal melodies, more natural transitions between genres, and some truly great instrumentals. The ironic thing is that most of the best moments come in the more progressive rock-oriented tracks, and so I think that might be a strength they should explore more in the future.
My favorite tracks all occur in the last half. “Awakened by the Light” has this mystery to it that I really enjoy, and it builds up in instrumental form to a big payoff chorus at the end. “Entering the City of the Gods” is supposed to be the big reveal lyrically, but the music is quite groovy and sassy, and I love that. Lino seems to be enjoying the more expressive nature of the lyrics and vocal melodies, too. “The Cuckoo’s Nest” has a hardened edge and is pretty dark, and it’s almost my favorite. “Newton’s Law” is a bit of an anomaly on the album. You’ll hear plenty of funkiness and quirkiness, including Gentle Giant/Spock’s Beard/Haken style vocal rounds, and the track ends off with a sweet synth solo.
Overall, though, “In the Hardest of Times” is my favorite track. The lyrics on the album are very well written, even if the voice acting is cheesy; but I especially noticed the excellent writing style on this final track. It ends the album with determination and a little bit of a blues influence, too. This track is mainly my favorite for its various successful transitions to different styles and moods, and it all seems very natural and cohesive in a way that isn’t totally found in the rest of the album.
In the end, “Babel” is not a failure. I like it quite a bit, actually. I just hope that the band can find their own style and what direction they want to take instead of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the proverbial bucket. The very end of this album sounds like they know where they want to go, and I really like that sound. I’m expecting a truly amazing album next time around, and I think “Babel” is worth your time in the mean time.