- Secret Band
- Post Hardcore/metal
Edit: google put this review on front page instead of my review of LP 2 here.
These guys represent the under appreciated side of Dance Gavin Dance, the core of the sound the exists without Johnny or Tillian that draws from metal and older post-hardcore/metalcore influences. This record is Jon Mess’ vocal playground where we get to hear just how versatile DGD’s unclean vocalist can be with his unique sound. As far as my appreciation of DGD, the guitars are what always carried their tunes through and the unclean vocals from Mess were some of the clearest and expressive screaming I’ve heard. The success of the Justin Timberlake-esque vocalist in the mix is what spawned a million imitation bands and changed the definition sound of post-hardcore, it became a theatrical farce more than poetry and catharsis. It was a nice sound for a couple of albums but after the whole scene replicated it, it lost its charm and became the standard. For an older fan it sucks watching them live and just seeing these guys who look like they have STD’s in their hair, air humping along to lyrics about love, facing a crowd of underage girls. That’s the side of DGD I can’t fucking stand, and so here is SECRETBAND – the anti-thesis to Isles & Glaciers. Similar to Fear Before and The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza.
Secret Band LP is a tight work of post-hardcore with the imagery and lyrics closer representing the themes of death metal and other heavy genres. There’s gory metaphors and analogies told with purely unclean vocals. Happiness is my least favorite DGD album and it’s interesting to discover that it didn’t have Jon Mess or Eric Lodge (Bassist). It’s clear that these are largely responsible for the musicality and versatility found across their respective DGD records. It’s all on display here with tracks that are consistent but not boring, there’s a lot of tonal shifts and interesting homages to hardcore, screamo, death metal and thrash. It’s all incorporated seamlessly with the guys’ great musical sensibilities. It’s a nice length at 32 minutes as every bit of music is meaningful, there’s nothing wasted or boring. It lends its self to a re-listen. I don’t really have any feelings about the album art, it probably could have been something better.
These are talented musicians burying down in their craft to scratch out their definitive stories. This the music that represents their individual influences while still maintaining some of the essence of DGD such as the flighty guitars and rapping screaming pace. Mess is a forceful vocalist and can carry an album as the lead vocalist with no problems at all. I’m more into this than any solo releases from the other vocalists. The way he manipulates his screams is impressive, kind of reminds me of some of the organic vocal effects Nathan Wineke from HORSE The Band but closer resembling crooning. Swan’s backing vocals are always a great time that helps to add some diversity to the screams and moans. Will Swan and Jon Mess are responsible for much of the frustrated energy we hear in albums like Acceptance Speech and we can clearly see the darker side of that work at play here. By denying the poppy aspect of Dance Gavin Dance that made them so popular, Secret Band are able hunker down into some more technical guitar work and drumming that heavier faster genres require. Something guitarist Martin Bianchini is no stranger to, absolutely leaving his own distinct mark on the project. He claimed in an interview that Aborted‘s Retrogore was a recent favorite.
Each track has at least one interesting moment to appreciate – a certain change of inflection or a subversion of the expected riffs and licks. Surrounding these moments are consistently good songs that only occasionally feel like regurgitated Downhill Battle Mountain licks. Which can kind of be excused if you think of this as DGD’s chance to play something without the clean vocalist, like a sneaky secret album where no Johnny’s, Kurt’s or Tillian’s allowed. The creating member’s alternate vision. Lyrically it appears to be focused on what has good syntax when screamed and what can be manipulated with techniques and vocal styles as we see on the track High Five which has a lot of non-words and sounds. It’s themed around bodily functions and gore as metaphors and analogies for various subjects from their personal lives like addiction, relationships or mental illness. Playing on infamous reports such as the Flordia face eater and the guy from Germany who subjects himself to being eaten. Something common place in the death metal scene but not so much in the post-hardcore scene. There’s definitely a sense of anguish and outrage among all of the discarded organs and guts scattered across this album, it could have had a Cannibal Corpse album cover and no one would have questioned it. The general tone is very pointed and seems to condemn a lot of people or establishments for certain behaviors or beliefs although I can’t figure out which ones myself.
Best tracks: Ladders has an awesome moment of math inspired timing that’d make Dillinger Escape Plan smirk, you’ll know it when you hear it – Mess is screaming “ass” in time to sharp guitar notes. The screaming towards the end of Biblee is chaotic and expressive while the instrumentation plays on those old school death metal influences I enjoy so much like the distinct galloping bass.
Secret Band absolutely rules but the premise of the project is in response to another work by them including having similar crazy high-quality production. This album sets the mark for the change of direction towards heavier sounds, but I will be waiting to see if their next release (due in May) will further depart from those DGD roots and into something more unique. Essential listening to any fans of DGD and related bands and something new to surprise the metalheads. What are the odds, it’s actually released as of an hour ago and as I’m finalizing this review.