Published Aug 29, 2018Italian blackened shape shifters the Secret have always been a "bit of a difficult band," guitarist Michael Bertoldini tells Exclaim! over the phone, but they'd never faced difficulty quite like they did in 2015.
After a dozen years together, inter-band tension had eroded the joy of the band to the point that members spoke more excitedly about going home than sharing the experience of playing a show. Bertoldini made the difficult decision to quietly put the band to bed that year, then retreated back to Amsterdam where he'd been living. Communication ceased entirely with half the band, with whom he wouldn't speak for another few years.
Thankfully, time heals all wounds.
"It's been just like, all our private lives coming to a point in which we were all a bit more adult or just more grown up," explains Bertoldini, "so we could bury the grudges that had been kind of haunting us for four years."
A mounting desire to play together was amplified by a show offer, and Bertoldini thought it would be more interesting to come back with new music too. From that simple idea came the three-song EP Lux Tenebris, which translates roughly to 'light darkness,' a name vocalist Marco Coslovich says was chosen to highlight "duality in our lives and its contradictions."
Fortunately, they didn't have to start from nothing. "The Sorrowful Void" was the first thing the guitarist wrote after their last LP, 2012's Agnus Dei. Bertoldini remembers composing the main riff in early 2014 and re-working it over and over until he had "like 60 different versions," because he was playing around with home recording at the time.
That new method of writing — previous albums were more jammed out in the practice space — ended up shaping the sound both in vibe and execution, explains Bertoldini.
"I think that the previous songs were really sounding more like a band practicing, and we wanted to keep our song as close as possible to how we sounded live as a four-piece in the practice space, so also the urgency of hardcore and punk was something that you can hear more. Then, this time, there was a bit more thought behind the music and in a way I think that we kind of enhanced this black metal vein that I think has always been part of the music."
"Vertigo," which Bertoldini says "sets the mood," was very much a product of their studio environment; instead of returning to GodCity Studio to record with Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, they opted to stay home and track with a friend, which allowed more time for experimentation and sonic exploration, and ended up producing a rawer recording. The opening track was only a vague idea when they entered the studio, one lacking a beat and functioning more as a drone track. Drums and vocals were added to create the final product, and though it was no longer a drone track, it maintained a similar feeling.
"I really wanted to kind of be able to sink deeper into the music while listening to it, so songs are a bit longer, there's more repetition and, on previous albums, for example, we kept certainly one or two riffs per song, while on this one we wanted the songs to be a little bit more of a journey, so we decided to use different dynamics and different parts within one song.
"I think this time instead of just going for super violent and straight to the point type of music," Bertoldini continues, "we wanted to dig deeper into creating a mood and atmosphere that's going to stick with you longer."
That's shifted the band's sound from the one that defined them pre-hiatus.
"Back then, we wanted to say one thing per song and we wanted to say that in the boldest way possible without any space for misinterpretation. Now I think what we want to say is a bit more layered and complex."
Coslovich says that the lyrical topics on Lux Tenebris emphasize this.
"We wanted to intensify some aspect of our music and do the same on the lyrical side. Still remaining very obscure, I worked on the lyrics in a more cryptic and sinister way to offer more freedom to the interpretation."
While this somewhat contradicts Bertoldini's statement that, "black metal, when it's really aggressive, really delivers a type of message that's very, very crystal clear and I like that type of idea: that sort of purity in what you want to say," it's likely he's referring to the communication of a mood than meaning, with the band definitely exemplifying the darkness the guitarist says is the core of their identity all over Lux Tenebris.
And those worried that darkness may swallow the band whole needn't fret; Bertoldini is already working on material for a follow-up release. All the Secret needed was time.