I feel like an ass for even writing this review. In fact, I almost deleted the entire thing this morning, but something kept me from doing that. I’ve been following Italy’s Soul Secret for a decade now, and unlike many other bands, they seem to have been in decline for most of that time. Their new album “Blue Light Cage” is the worst of their career, and I’m just not sure where they can go from here. The album releases today, October 23rd, through Layered Reality Productions.
Soul Secret are Italian to the core, and I’ve always liked that about them. To this day, I’m a massive fan of their powerful, towering sophomore album “Closer to Daylight”. It was their Italian sass and energy that really sold their sound, much of that due to the singer they had at the time. The band currently consists of Lino Di Pietrantonio on vocals, Francesco Cavezza on guitars, Claudio Casaburi on bass, Luca Di Gennaro on keys and programming, and Antonio Mocerino on drums (studio).
Soul Secret have always been a progressive metal band. However, they have been experimenting with various other genres, and the results have been mixed. Their third album “4” kept much of the meat to their metal sound, but 2017’s “Babel” saw the band mixing in world music, prog rock, and even blues. Again, some of that was successful, and some of it was not. With this new album, you will hear some of those same genre twists, mostly with quirky passages and some jazzy accents. Their metal sound doesn’t have the same power behind it, but they pretty much lost that years ago.
This is an album stuck in time. If it had been released in, say, 2006, it might have been interesting, slightly. The band has regressed so much that their original two albums actually have far more ideas and twists to them. Instead, we are treated to prog metal tropes galore, and we’ve heard them all a million times, to the point that you could probably start naming the albums from which they originate. And even that would be okay to some extent, but these tropes aren’t performed or composed very well, so there’s really no reason to hear them. In the end, it’s like being promised a magic trick full of shock and awe, but then you find out the subject of the trick is you, and the magic is to relieve you of $10. If I wanted to hear Dream Theater and Haken banalities, I would just listen to Dream Theater and Haken.
Yet, this album is something of a paradox. How is it that a gorgeously composed and performed sax solo (performed by Marek Arnold, one of my favorite musicians) can exist alongside the clichéd and barren title track? How is it that a brilliant keyboard solo can be inserted in the middle of an otherwise uninteresting final “epic”? This album acts like this over and over again. You will hear a wonderfully meaty riff, such as in “The President’s Speech”, but you can’t enjoy it because it is surrounded by some of the worst vocal lines and cheesy storytelling I’ve heard in years. Every track seems to have a small spark of light, but the band just didn’t seem to know how to coax that spark into a true fire.
Most of the music feels aimless, just existing for the sake of being there, so you will find that this release is chock full of awkward filler instrumentals where the band seemed like they knew a transition or expansion of themes was needed, but they didn’t quite know how to create either one. They even attempt some of the stuttering, riffy intros that are a staple of the genre, but they usually feel unwieldy and pointless. I mean, if you like odd time signatures, you will hear plenty of those, for no other reason than the band thinks they are supposed to use them so that they keep their “prog“ cred.
And now I’ve arrived at the true elephant in the room. The issues with the music and story could almost be salvaged if a strong vocalist were leading the charge. Lino, for some reason, has laid down some of the worst vocals I’ve heard this year. I went back to the last two albums, even, because I don’t remember his voice being so excruciatingly off-key and shrill. On previous albums, he had a melodic musicality to his voice, hit notes with awareness, and sang most vocal lines with silky skill. On this album, not only are the vocal melodies almost non-existent (outside of a couple admittedly good hooks), but Lino seems to be doing his best James LaBrie impression from “Awake”, only he is not very good at it. Therefore, the vocals end up making me cringe and marvel at just how ruinous they are to the full album.
I cannot name one song off this release that I completely like. I do think there are some bright moments, such as the aforementioned sax and keyboard solos. In fact, Luca’s keys are mostly a high point for the album, as he lays down some gorgeous solos and atmospheres here and there, though there are a few that fall flat, too. The moments when he isn’t trying to be Jordan Rudess are his best moments.
Overall, the higher points would be “The President’s Speech” (despite the horrendously cheesy voiceover that mentions the government banning odd time signatures), the title track, and parts of “Breathe and Recover”. With “Babel”, the band at least had an interesting, if flawed story that kept me invested. This time, the concept seems to have been done many, many times before, and it lacks any real cohesion. Because of this, the album feels way longer than it actually is.
I hope the band can forgive me for this review. This review is basically a flood of feelings based on where I was afraid the band would go, and indeed they did go there. I heard moments of hopeful brilliance on the last couple of records, but this album loses all of that in favor of pandering to the cheesy tropes and usual suspects of the more commercial side of the prog world. I thought we were past the Dream Theater clones, but I guess not. At this point, I’m not sure I’ll bother with their future albums.
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