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One of the more successful and well known Italian power metal bands, Secret Sphere, have released their latest effort, entitled Sweet Blood Theory. This album is the band’s fifth full-length CD since their inception back in 1997. And just recently, the band announced a change of labels, going from Nuclear Blast to Dockyard 1. With all of Secret Sphere’s previous albums given good praise, how would the new Sweet Blood Theory stack up? Read on to find out.
Secret Sphere are not your ordinary power metal band. With lyrical content typically ranging from life issues, love, reality and dark fantasy; Secret Sphere have also had a sexual tinge thrown into their lyrics. With previous song titles such as Virgin Street 69, Scent Of A Woman and Desire; and a album titles such as Mistress Of The Shadowlight and Scent Of Human Desire; these lads from Italy have certainly opened new doors into lyrical content of European power metal bands. These persuasive song titles took a back seat, however, in the band’s fourth CD Heart And Anger. This release was a “back to the roots” type album, which recalls the first power influence of the band. The tracks were fast and furious, but mixed with melody and a symphonic aspect, which was backed up by a 50-piece symphonic orchestra.
Sweet Blood Theory has taken the core of Heart And Anger making a continuation of the band’s original power influence, making it their new musical direction. This latest effort by Secret Sphere is a concept album based on the novel The Vampire written by John William Polidori in 1814 and is regarded as one of the early novels with a vampire character, even possibly the very first. This concept is perfect for Secret Sphere as their dark fantasy content can flow freely with the concepts of the novel.
The first thing I noticed with the new release, is that Secret Sphere are now much more aggressive. Not overly aggressive however, but still quite melodic and symphonic as well. The tracks, bar one, are all mid to fast-paced with a lot of double bass pummeling, chunky riffs and memorable solos. Secret Sphere’s use of keys has been like their musical signature over past albums; and with Sweet Blood Theory this is no exception. The keys and symphonic elements really balances out against the more aggressive side, giving more feeling and emotion to each track. Add to that, Roberto Messina’s wonderful and melodic vocals, which drives the feeling of each track. His range is exceptional, while his delivery has improved a lot over the years. One track on the CD which really shows off Messina’s abilities, is the ballad called The Butterfly Dance. Soulful and emotional, it is one of the better metal ballads I’ve heard in quite some time.
I also must say that Secret Sphere’s song-writing, arrangements and song structure have improved quite a lot. On Sweet Blood Theory I was impressed with the creative song-writing, in which no way seemed predictable or done just “by the numbers”. Each track has its own feel, identity and intensity; and does not seem to go by any previous song structures. Secret Sphere have really pulled out all the stops on this release, putting everything into this album. And the best thing is, that it really shows. The evidence is right there in the music.
Although the whole CD kicks ass song-wise and I could easily list every track as a standout; some of the tracks worth mentioning here are Stranger In Black, From A Dream To A Nightmare, The Shadows Of The Room Of Pleasure, Welcome To The Circus, Feed My Fire and All These Words.
I can easily and proudly say that Sweet Blood Theory is by far Secret Sphere’s best album to date. If you thought Scent Of Human Desire and Heart And Anger were good, then be prepared for something even better with this release. This band may be overlooked somewhat in the metal community, but with the move to Dockyard 1 and now with this opus, here is Secret Sphere’s bold statement to the metal world.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com and www.themetalforge.com
Secret Sphere is considered by most to be something of an afterthought in the Italian power metal scene, sort of an early emulator of bands such as Rhapsody and Labyrinth who were dismissed as riding off of their coattails. To be fair, they did differentiate themselves a bit by moderating the progressive keyboard work of both bands and the symphonic elements of the former and going after a more guitar oriented sound. Since their inception they’ve evolved a little bit, but have systematically avoided doing a genre shift the way some other acts including Human Fortress and Twilightning have, and instead come out with something a little closer to mid-80s Helstar meets Helloween with just a dash of Pagan‘s Mind.
In spite of some pretty solid releases, “Sweet Blood Theory” is the best that this band has put forth so far. It presents one of the most balanced presentations of symphonic keyboard work and hard edged, NWOBHM inspired speed metal riffing ever to come out of a European power metal band to come out of the late 90s, let alone one from Italy where keyboards usually tend to hold equal if not greater footing with the guitars. There’s a lot of commonalities in the riffing style to a couple of different influential guitarists from Rhandy Rhodes to Rolf Kasparek, among others whose riffs defined the pre-glam heavy metal guitar style of 1980-85. Granted, a lot of these riffs have also been sexed up with some occasional Michael Romeo and John Petrucci detailing here and there, but for the most part this is a good deal more pointed towards a Running Wild and early Helloween style of playing.
Many of these songs are introduced with musical ideas that are occasionally symphonic, but also heavily reliant on electronic and ambient ideas that parallel late 90s Labyrinth. The opening overture “Evil Or Divine” (perhaps a nod to Dio given that Vivian Campbell’s influence can be heard in a couple of these songs), as well as the intros to “From A Dream To A Nightmare” and “Sweet Blood Theory” have a strong Danny Elfman character to them, sort of akin to a light lullaby sound the builds into something more foreboding just before the guitars kick in. However, there are songs such as “The Shadows Of The Room Of Pleasure” and “Feed My Fire” have something of a techno-like keyboard intro, though the place where these brief interludes leads is a similar mix of fast and mid-paced guitar glory.
There are a lot of really fine examples of majestic power metal here that is on some level comparable to the glory days of the late 90s, but also a bit different and somewhat comparable to the earlier American variant. The first 3 full length songs are loaded with plenty of European styled fanfare moments, particularly during the choruses, but also plenty of hard edged riffing that goes from a vintage speed metal sound to a rapid scale burst progressive metal mode fairly rapidly. “Welcome To The Circus” has a nice mix of early Helloween and Iron Maiden moments in the guitar riffs, although the smooth tinged, Ray Adler inspired voice of Roberto Messina does give a fairly gritty guitar character a softer side. The closing song “Vampire’s Kiss” has a couple of solid power/thrash segments that play off of a fairly catchy set of slower sections, although it tends towards a single note rhythmic droning pedal point while other things around it move the arrangement along.
At other points this album does tilt a bit towards a progressive mode, particularly during the 2nd half of the album, but remains catchy and largely guitar oriented throughout. The only song that really deviates from this character is the token ballad “The Butterfly Dance”, which sounds basically like the title suggests, light and fluttery. Roberto’s vocals are pretty clean cut throughout the album, but here they sound soft and airy enough to pass for something heard out of Europe in the late 80s. The chord progression and melodic material that occupies the chorus is steeped in cliché, and the general flow of the song is fairly anticlimactic and 2 dimensional. But other than this particular song, everything on here listens like a perfect mix of Helloween’s “Keepers” albums and Ozzy’s “Blizzard Of Ozz”.
Although Messina’s other project Alkemyst put out the better album this year, this is the greatest thing that Secret Sphere has put out thus far, and definitely something that should be looked into if you’re a power metal fan. Even if you don’t normally go for the softer and more symphonic style typical to Italy, this would be worth looking into as it is not fully characteristic of said style and can appeal to fans of German and French versions of the style as well.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 7, 2009.
I have always liked Secret Sphere, however, I guess I could never say that I loved them; their music is undeniably emotive, sensitive and, of course, melodic as hell, however, there has always been something missing on their albums. A Time Never Come, for the longest time, was my favorite album of theirs, however, it just suffers terribly from the production; all of the ambition was there, all of the progressive compositions were there, however, the guitars (as well as everything besides the synth, really) just sound like shit and, when it comes to melodic/symphonic/whatever power metal, ace production is somewhat of a necessity. Well, it's 2008 now and, although I will fully admit I wasn't particularly excited or thrilled to be getting my hands on the new Secret Sphere album, I can now say that I should have been - Sweet Blood Theory, in a nutshell, is sickeningly awesome and I almost can't believe it's the same band that released Heart & Anger a few years ago.
Beginning off with a short instrumental, symphonic opener (unheard of when it comes to power metal, of course), we are taken into some very Danny Elfman-influenced territory and, despite the fact that symphonic openers are a cliche anymore, Evil Or Divine works, especially when taken into context with the album's real opener, Stranger In Black; it was after only about a minute-and-a-half into this song that I knew this was going to be Secret Sphere's best album - the production is unbelievably crisp and clear, easily their best to date, and the song just, well, fuckin' kills! As if things couldn't get any better after the steadfastly solid opening duo, we are delivered From A Dream To A Nightmare which, as far as I am concerned, is one of Secret Sphere's best songs ever, if not the best all together; it opens with another Elfman-esque moment, charging forward into some double-kick territory with strings frantically moving all over the place, creating an atmosphere very much accurate to what the title describes. Now, of course, this IS power metal we're talking about, right? - well, damn, the chorus! - seriously, power metal choruses, when done right, are some of the most incredible highs a metal listener can have (well, assuming that you like power metal, anyhow, although, if you do, you KNOW what I'm talking about) and, simply put, the chorus to From A Dream To A Night is one of these choruses and, wow, I love it! - as if the song couldn't get much better, we are then completely slain by ripping, ripping solos courtesy of Mr. Aldo Lonobile ... seriously, this song is everything power metal is about, done to pristine perfection.
Now, since we are talking about Secret Sphere here, we are of course delivered their unique brand of very sensitive, sweet and AOR-influenced songs, and, being a rather sappy fellow myself, I have always enjoyed these selections and, thankfully, Sweet Blood Theory is not without them. The Butterfly Dance, as well as All These Words, both move along with nearly ethereal, romantic melodies and, of course, all of the longing that comes with such emotions; they ARE beautiful, folks, despite the fact that, if stripped of the metal elements, they could be in Disney's Enchanted movie.
Secret Sphere have never been that big (in relation to bands like Sonata Arctica and Edguy), although well-respected in the power metal circles, however, with this album, I sincerely wish the band the best in terms of getting more ears tuned to their music; Sweet Blood Theory is definitely their best record to date, without a doubt, and, if you're open to hearing some power tuned to perfection, this should be on top of your list - right alongside Serenity's Fallen Sanctuary record, this IS the best power metal album of 2008.
Oh, and the closing track, Vampire's Kiss, is unreal too; fuck, this is a great album.