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Blood is sweeter than water. - 91%

hells_unicorn, May 7th, 2009

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.