After a line-up change, the Italian progressive metal band Soul Secret returns with a successor for Flowing Portraits (2008). Due to illness, their vocalist Michele Serpico was unable to perform on this previous album, so Mind Key' s Mark Basile took care of the vocals instead. Now, Soul Secret found a new vocalist by the name of Fabio Manda, who makes his debut on Closer To Daylight. Second change in the band was the replacement of one of the founder members: bass player Lucio Grilli left and Claudio Casaburi joined the band. Yet founding member guitarist Antonio Vittozzi together with keyboard player Luca Di Gennaro and drummer Antonio Mocerino form the nucleus of the band.
Most of the time, it's easy to notice whether a progressive metal band has its roots in Italy or not. There's something in the vocalist's voice that makes the music recognizable as being Italian. I was very pleased with the vocals of Soul Secret. 'La dolce vita' can be heard in the characteristics of the band's sound. Opening with Checkmate, influences from Dream Theater are mixed with those of Pain Of Salvation, but also bands like DMG, Empty Tremor and even Rhapsody Of Fire leave their marks. The guitars sound perfect and powerful, the drums adventurous and the keyboards impressive. Next is River's Edge with strong vocal lines and heavy guitars tending a bit more in the direction of power metal. Guest musician Marco Sfogli plays the second guitar solo on this piece. He's known from James LaBrie (see review), Creation's End (see review) and a tremendous solo album.
During If Fabio Manda is accompanied by female vocalist Anna Assentato in order to get an extra dimension in the music. The slightly more electronic background makes this song a bit different from the previous two. During The Shelter I recalled another Italian band; mostly by listening to the vocals Eldritch came to mind. Although Eldritch is much darker and rougher I heard similarities in power and emotion as far as the vocals are concerned. The piano and keyboard parts certainly push the band into the area of progressive rock, but as soon as the heavy bass and guitar parts take the lead you can enjoy a perfect blend of metal and rock elements.
Pillars Of Sand has an almost Middle Eastern sounding acoustic guitar that gently flows into an electric one. Then strong bass playing takes over and again Manda's singing is great. During the fine instrumental parts, the keyboard playing strongly reminded me of Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), but this time supplemented with a kind of Latin-like piano sound. October 1917 is an acoustic ballad showing that just a guitar and perfect vocals are enough to make a statement. Behind The Curtain is the electric continuation of the previous song with the power building up; in this powerful song the guitar is playing staccato riffs over a carpet of keyboard sounds.
In the album's final piece Aftermath, singer Arno Menses (Subsignal) appears as a guest vocalist. This piece, lasting for almost seventeen minutes, contains the finest music there is. You can enjoy progressive metal, rock, acoustic guitars and fine keyboards all mixed in a melodic and progressive highlight that will grow on you every time you listen to it. You hear John Petrucci-like guitars, double bass drums and smooth piano play. The always impressive vocals of Arno Menses are the icing on the cake. Vocal wise this song surpasses all the previous ones. Fabio Manda is a great singer and I love his voice, but Arno Menses just hails from another planet!
With their second album, Soul Secret entered the major league of progressive metal bands a far as I'm concerned. They started afresh with a stunning new vocalist and compared with the debut album the compositions have become better. The combination of a heavy bass, brilliant guitars, impressive keyboards and excellent drumming make sure that the musicianship is far above average on Closer To Daylight. For me the epic piece Aftermath is the progressive song of the year so far, with all the credits to vocalist Arno Menses.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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