Secrets of the Moon - Antithesis Review
by Mark Hensch
What does one do with an album as refined as this? Granted, Germany's Secrets of the Moon have always been a slowly-lingering taste, the sort of band whose music gets stronger rather than weaker with the passage of time. Released in September of 2006, Antithesis as an album is the most patient and complex composition Secrets of the Moon has ever done; like a fine wine, a person taking in this strange little disc must patiently savor the blackened groove on offer here. At times delicate, at others startlingly dense, Antithesis earns its name well---as far as blackened metal goes, the risks Secrets of the Moon have taken on this disc will seem fairly revolutionary regardless of a person's individual tastes.
Said tastes will probably determine what kind of person loves this CD, and what kind loathes it. Honestly, with an album entitled Antithesis, did you expect anything less? As far as my take, I like what Secrets of the Moon is trying to do, but I personally feel it does not always work. Describing the entire CD as an overall entity, I would propose to casual observers that Antithesis seeks to be a fine meshing between the blistering cold of Scandinavian black metal and the ghastly darkness of Switzerland's legendary Celtic Frost. Atmospherically, the disc owes to both in spades---Antithesis is lush in its melancholy and frequently drapes thick layers of choking darkness over everything it does. Musically, Secrets of the Moon have taken the chaos of Gorgoroth or Mayhem perhaps and slowed it to a trudging crawl. When paired with frequently hypnotic clean passages and chugging, poisonous riffs ala Celtic Frost, the end result is a sense of musical dynamics pleasantly familiar and mildly trite, insipidly bland and gripping in its memorable nature.
This paradox of quality hooks melded with well-trod roads leads to an interesting dilemma; just how predictable is something titled to be glaringly original? The answer is sadly often---Antithesis suffers from a frequent tendency towards obvious and yawn-inspiring dynamic shifts, the likes of which most seasoned metalheads could spot from miles away. Further adding salt to the wounds is the way such arrangements end up sounding. If Celtic Frost built proto-thrash to be a sort of plodding chug, layered in crushing heaviness and battering chaos, said riffs would sound mighty metalcore if interposed predictably amongst faster, churning riffs now wouldn't they? As mentioned earlier, I like the idea behind Antithesis but maybe not the execution; the obvious breaks to indulge in the slower, more hypnotic/chugging riffage sounds every bit as Celtic Frosted as it does Unearthed, and it does get a bit old after a while.
This does not mean Antithesis is without merit however. Predictable or not, this album still sounds a billion times better than many other BM demos recorded in mom's basement and haphazardly sent to me in dreary packaging. The lyrics (which deal with occultism/magical transformations/obtuse realities) are sharp and intelligent, an increasing rarity in the often primitive German black metal scene. The production is ebony-dark but every bit as shiny and clear; nothing is lost and the mix achieves a sort of massive menace well-outstripping less focused BM affairs. Though this might be a tad repetitive overall, it accomplishes a unique nod to several facets of metal and largely ignores current BM trends, another plus in my book. The song writing is well-crafted and sensible, the kind of stuff that anyone should be able to at least appreciate even if they miss the message or dislike the music by itself.
Intro track "Nowhere 11.18" is a perfect reason as to why most will at least enjoy this mildly. Starting off with an ominous hum, the song explodes into cascading and furious riffage, the kind of dirty, crawling thrash tons of Celtic Frost-loving bands have worshipped since the end of the Hellhammer era. "Versus" segues seamlessly out of this with a boiling maelstrom of hypnotic black metal and what sounds like church bells in the percussion. It sounds pretty good, but before a person can really sink their teeth into the chaotic whirlwind of fury a massive groove riff kicks in ala a breakdown. Things suddenly reek of mallcore, and the mood is killed a bit, before the band turns it into a more conventional half-thrash passage. A see-saw dynamic between a wistful clean passage and a tremolo-drenched avalanche ends things on a wild note, and the song ends up being pretty radical.
"Ordinance" is disarming in its simplicity, single notes being plucked into a floating void of oblivion before blasting BM fire utterly annihilates them. The slow, swinging, and violent beatdown which follows is an excellent mix of slow-paced riffs and furious drumming, making for a potent concoction. "Confessions" winds in off a slithering guitar line, deep and hollow-sounding, all before a melancholy chill wind sweeps it away into an endless midnight ballad. Excellent stuff this.
The eerie "Metamorphoses" marks an increasingly strong second half, and the patiently epic madness on offer here is perfect in both tone and atmosphere. Frontman Daevas whispers in a hushed incantation while everything else around him crawls along at a pulverizing steamroller crush. "Ghost" keeps up the moody aura with some dark clean passages transitioning flawlessly into an airtight fusion of later-period Enslaved riffs and Gorgoroth chaos. Skinsman Thrawn is quite the blackened wizard, the man doing all sorts of wonderful percussion on not only this one mentioned track but the entire disc as a whole.
"Seraphim is Dead" begins with a velvet seduction worthy of the elegant Audrey Horne, deep and shimmering chords flickering into a gloriously cathartic song. Abrasive yet delicate at the same time, the song teeters between manic cruelty and prog-influenced melody. I'd love to see Secrets of the Moon unveil more works in this vein, and hopefully they explore these avenues further on their next release.
"Lucifer Speaks" is also a marvelous track, its doom-leaning grandeur both dark and majestic. In what will probably be a lost allusion, this sounds like a much-more fleshed out Jotunspor (Nordic Mythos loving Gorgoroth side-project from 2006). Mammoth and plodding, the noxious tones and headbang worthy gallops lead into the decent "Exit," a soaring and fist-pump inducing climax not unlike recent Enslaved yet again.
Like all Antitheses, this particular entity is difficult to fully comprehend or gauge. On the one hand, the band has crafted a singular identity in a sea of rarely differentiated peers; on the other, this does not mean Secrets of the Moon always escape the trappings of convention. Striking a well-set balance between exploration and tradition, Antithesis excels in using established ideas in excelling the band in the search for new ones. Such predictable behavior in the search for fresh concepts is both endearing and aggravating, and as such, there is both love and hate to be found in this work. Love it or hate it, the worst you'll get is decent, and in this day and age that is perfectly alright.
Secrets of the Moon's Antithesis
1. Nowhere 11.18
7. Seraphim is Dead
8. Lucifer Speaks
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Secrets of the Moon - Antithesis
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