Album Review: Secret Band – S/T Full Length 8.3 (Post Hardcore)

Written by Carcassbomb

  • Secret Band
  • S/T Full Length
  • Post Hardcore/Metal
  • California, USA
  • July 31, 2014
  • 8.3/10

Bandcamp/Facebook/Spotify/Itunes/Youtube

Edit: google put this review on front page instead of my review of LP 2 here.

Secret Band represent the under-appreciated side of Dance Gavin Dance, the core that exists without Johnny or Tillian and draws from metal and older post-hardcore/metalcore influences. This record is Jon Mess’ vocal playground – 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 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 being replicated by the whole scene, it lost its charm. So here is SECRET BAND – the antithesis to Isles & Glaciers. Similar to Fear Before and The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza.

Album Art by Jon Mess

Secret Band S/T 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, incorporated seamlessly with great musical sensibilities. It’s a nice length at 32 minutes as every bit of music is meaningful.

These are talented musicians burying down in their craft to scratch out their definitive stories. This music 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 with no problems at all. The way he manipulates his screams is impressive – it reminds me of the organic vocal effects of Nathan Wineke from HORSE The Band but more croon-like. Swan’s backing vocals are always a great time that helps to add some diversity. 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 with no Johnnys, Kurts or Tillians allowed. The founding 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. A clear example of this is the track “High Five” which has a lot of non-words and sounds. Themed around bodily functions and gore, this track plays on infamous reports such as the Florida face eater and the guy from Germany who subjects himself to being eaten, while also symbolising issues such as addiction, relationships and mental illness. 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.

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