When thinking of the music associated with the term ‘prog metal’, there are a few notable ways in which you can ascribe this sound. Recent years in particular have expanded this to include atmospheric pieces, technique-oriented aggressive stylings, and all manners of heavier rock that contain varied structures and instrumentation. This, in and of itself, is indicative of the meaning the term ‘progressive’ ascribes to a genre, but it also shows the way in which things have splintered and moved forward in different directions despite the continued use of the same basic moniker. With all this, there is still a strong ongoing push for a more ‘traditional’ progressive metal sound that harkens back to early Dream Theater and its ilk – this is particularly true in the case of progressive bands from Europe. It’s from here that we also get the Italian prog metal group Soul Secret, and their newest release, Babel.
The most succinct and clear explanation of Soul Secret’s sound I can give is to say that it comes from the same well of creativity as many other modern progressive bands that follow a traditional mindset. With the likes of Vanden Plas, Seventh Wonder, and, most notably, Circus Maximus, they share the same long-form song structures with melodic vocals and guitar/keyboard riff-driven design. There is certainly a lot of creativity in the musical pieces between these points, but it’s much the same as you would see in Isolate or Nine. When diving into the album, you’ll get songs that regularly reach and surpass the double-digit mark, familiar song arcs, and odd time signature-laden instrumental middle sections – it even has the age-old outro motif of reintegrating the chorus after seven minutes of changing styles to leave off on a high vocal note that bleeds into a guitar solo. This is by no means a detriment, given how small the pool of big name acts currently doing this style of music is; it’s just something to be aware of going in.
Where many of these bands get a chance to differentiate themselves end explore new territory is in the extended instrumental segments present on nearly every song. In this way, Soul Secret is no different. Moments toward the end of “The Hardest of Times” (the flute segment in particular) and within “Entering the City of Gods” shine with their quality musicianship and understanding of the balance between virtuosity and restraint. Guitar parts are in equal parts technically impressive and slowly melodic, while the keyboard compliments them in every way you’d expect. This album bleeds experience of the craft, and adeptly shows musicians well within their comfort zone. There’s a unique kind of respect that you have to give a band that knows the sound it’s going for and commits to it fully.
One of the most common criticisms I’ve seen leveraged towards the band’s music is in regards to the vocalist’s performance; not in the sense of it being of it being of poor quality, but rather concerning the tone and heightened pitch of it. In many ways it comfortably sits alongside many of the other aforementioned bands in this regard, though it may be something you have to adjust to if you’re approaching this from the perspective of a more ‘contemporary’ prog metal sound. On that topic, the vocal performance is competent and varied throughout. While some of the trappings of this style come through (i.e. wavering pitches in held notes, inconsistency in spoken word-like phrases, etc…), Lino Di Pietrantonio does a great and near effortless job in reaching for impressive moments. Moreover, the actual structure of the singing contains a wide-range of melodic phrases and tones that help keep the listener engaged.
But what if you aren’t familiar with any of these other bands, and the comparisons aren’t helping you with this point? In simple terms, Soul Secret play rock-oriented progressive metal, with longer-than-average songs that often dip into conceptual and instrumental territory at times. Keyboards and guitar provide the backbone of most riffs, while the clean vocals soar in an unironically dramatic fashion. The album itself is relatively long, with a lot of variation during its runtime, and the sound carries a confidence that will appeal to fans of older rock and metal. The only ways in which it doesn’t fully execute on its intention is in the awkward spoken moments within the concept of the album (i.e. the prologue and dialogue at the end of several tracks) and the occasionally unbalanced mixing (usually between the vocals and keys, like, for example, on “Awakened by the Light”).
At the end of the day, Babel is a quality album that sits comfortably among its contemporaries. The musicianship is well-delivered, the songs competently written, and experience laid bare. What holds it back for me personally, is how often I felt like I had heard so much of it before. If you enjoy Seventh Wonder or Circus Maximus, Soul Secret delivers in spades. Alternatively, this could act as a decent introduction to this style for those unfamiliar. I just have a hard time believing this will/can sit with the best offerings the style has put out in recent years. At the very least, I can confidently say that this record is worth your time and money – and it’s much better than the singles lead you to believe.
Notable Tracks: “In the Hardest of Times”; “Entering the City of Gods”
FFO: Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder, Vanden Plas