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An hour of the stormy, seaside-style intro to Pathway (Metal Blade), the second album from morose Oakland sextet Secrets of the Sky, would truly be the most hypnotic, serene experience. It’s real chill-out stuff, like those relaxation CDs you get from The Range. The band’s début, To Sail Black Waters (Kolony Records), was a heady mix of ephemeral beauty and harsh wastelands, and this effort proves no less expressive in both areas.
The first track in earnest, ‘Three Swords’, sees atmospheric synth course through steely riffs, dreamlike harmonies and hostile, agonised screams. There are brief interludes throughout the album; the more ominous ‘II’ leading appropriately into the balladic ‘Angel in Vines’s mix of doom-laden riff and rhythm, coated in a mix of death growls, blackened rasps and delicate, oft-whispered lilts. The accompanying soft, jangling leads make the whole reminiscent of a shoegazing Scorpions; it’s a stunning track, enveloping the listener in evocative waves of lush sound.
The utterly miserable ‘Another Light’, however, is the sound of a soul past the point of despair; sunk into exhausted apathy. Yes friends, this is no cheery experience and it sadly becomes increasingly cheapened by those brief synth and clinical lead inclusions, periodically dragging a powerful and harrowing sound into the occasionally cheesy realms of Melodic Death. Only the sluggish pace, anguished roars and ‘cleans’, and a pensive acoustic coda save ‘Garden of Prayers’ from wistful mediocrity.
Sadly the passion is also diluted, not helped by a crystal-clear production, resulting in what is undoubtedly intended to be a highly emotive outing being robbed of a significant dose of the required spirit. The brute force of the largely faster, nastier ‘Fosforos’ finally displays the element of grit that’s been missing: the closing half of wrought, sinister lead surrounded by the vicious vocals and pummeling drums of the opening section. A return of those hushed intonations over cold lead twangs in the anodyne, prosaic ‘Eternal Wolves’, however, embodies the flaws which ultimately stick in the mind.
Though by no means a poor effort, and musically accomplished in spades, Pathway is nevertheless short of real feeling.