Secret Sphere – Portrait Of A Dying Heart
Portrait Of A Dying Heart
Ever since I heard that Michele Luppi was on board with Secret Sphere, this became one of my most anticipated albums of 2012. But now that it’s here, I’m just not quite sure what to do. Luppi is still definitely on the top of his game, and this is probably the most straight-up power metal project that he’s ever performed in, but the juxtaposition of his vocal skills with my pre-conceived notions of Secret Sphere’s sound (based upon owning most of their albums) has created a strange phenomenon indeed.
This could just be me, because I’ve heard a lot of press for this album already, and most of it good. Put simply, this just doesn’t sound much like I expect Secret Sphere to sound. The guitar work is subdued a bit on the first half to make room for more emphasis on the vocals than ever before, though the keyboard work is just as distinctive as it has been since Sweet Blood Theory (where I feel they became more of a unique characteristic). Despite being featured rather heavily on the first few tracks of the album (including the exceptionally long instrumental title track), the beginning emphasis of keyboard is part of what causes Portrait Of A Dying Heart to start fairly slowly.
Slowly, that is, until single “The Fall” hammers listeners with what is undoubtedly the most aggressive performance I’ve ever heard from either Secret Sphere or Luppi himself. So much so that the transition from the initial riff into the verse is almost jarring to the point of seeming ill-conceived. Luckily, this problem doesn’t really happen again, and the whole band delivers a pretty great performance from this point onwards. I can’t help but compare this to former Luppi projects like Vision Divine and especially Killing Touch, and not just because of the sound of his voice, but his choral and layering effects (which are absolutely unmistakable). I don’t know how much Luppi was responsible for in terms of songwriting, but the vibe that I get from the band is that they signed him on board, only to be shanghaied for his own purposes.
I think that most Secret Sphere fans will enjoy this work, but I think they’ll agree with me that the band has lost a bit of its previous identity with the departure of Robert Messina. Standing on its own, Portrait Of A Dying Heart seems to be a bit more ferocious, and yet introspective and well-tempered than most of the what the band has previously offered. On the other hand, it’s also fairly incomparable to the band’s older material, and any progress that the band has made in recent years seems to now be irrelevant. The production is sleek and the musicianship tighter than ever before, however. Up to this point in Secret Sphere’s career, it’s quite the anomaly. This isn’t like a band tweaking itself, it’s more of a complete sound revolution, as more elements have been affected than just the singer. Luppi seems to have brought along a penchant for progginess that the entire band has adopted.
So ultimately, Portrait Of A Dying Heart stands on its own amidst both Secret Sphere’s catalog and Michele Luppi’s own portfolio. I can’t say that it’s the best work that either has ever done, but it IS a very good collaboration, and I’m interested to see how it continues. In the meantime, this album is a bit of a grower, and so I’m going to go right on spinning it.
Dan’s Rating: 3.75 out of 5