Album of the Week 07-2015: Secret Sphere – Portrait Of A Dying Heart

Italian progressive Power Metallers Secret Sphere were always a band I had appreciated, but for some reason, I never truly got into them. They had the melodic sensibilities and the slightly more interesting compositions than most of the other bands that followed their fellow countrymen of Labÿrinth and Rhapsody to impress me, but somehow never held my interest for a prolonged period. Enter Michele Luppi. The former singer of Vision Divine, with his impossibly beautiful voice and wide range he moves through with enviable smoothness. The band’s seventh album proves that an amazing singer was the missing piece in Secret Sphere’s formula.

Luppi’s presence is felt immediately. Not only do his voice and his trademark layered harmonies mark much of the album’s character, ‘Portrait Of A Dying Heart’ is also Secret Sphere’s most overt Power Metal album thus far. The progressive tendencies – mainly early Fates Warning-isms – are still there, but the record is more song-oriented and a tad less complex than what their fan base may be used to. In fact, Vision Divine’s work is a pretty adequate reference what the album sounds like. Band leader Aldo Lonobile did keep an eye on the fact that Secret Sphere kept its identity though.

With the six minute instrumental opening track and the following ‘X’, Secret Sphere wisely chose to open their album in the most progressive fashion possible. ‘X’ is speedy and intense, but does deviate from the standard Power Metal formula enough to speak of a surprise. The rest of the album contains blazing headbangers with killer riffs and fantastic choruses such as ‘Wish & Steadiness’ and the amazing ‘Secrets Fear’, proggy stompers like ‘Healing’ and ‘The Fall’ and passionate power ballads – they’re Italian after all – of which ‘Lie To Me’ is the most impressive. I’m not sure if closing the album with two ballads was the wisest idea, but at least they’re well written.

Not just the music, also the mixing job is clearly in favor of Michele Luppi. It’s not hard to understand why; the man is simply one of the best – if not the best – singers in the contemporary Power Metal scene. I can imagine it may irritate fans of Secret Sphere’s instrumental prowess, but I find it a very pleasant listen. Not in the last place because the guitars courtesy of Lonobile and Marco Pastorino have a very nice tone here. Nowhere near as shrill as on most contemporary Metal records and as a result, their chords have a warm body to them. Frederico Pennazzato’s drums sound surprisingly natural and – therefore – powerful as well.

And so it happened that Secret Sphere needed Michele Luppi to push me over the edge. It’s not just Luppi’s fault that ‘Portrait Of A Broken Heart’ is so good though. There is so much awesome riff work and rhythmical intensity to enjoy here that every fan of slightly more adventurous Power Metal – let’s say Angra – should find something of their liking here. You just have to be able to digest something more vocal and song driven than may be usual in the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Secrets Fear’, ‘Wish & Steadiness’, ‘X’

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