Perfect pitch black majesty. That pretty much sums this album up.
Yet at only seven songs, each of an extensive length and ambitious, demanding structure, Seven Bells is not designed as an album that is easy to listen to. It is a record that demands the listener’s full attention, one which creates and destroys in equal measure, tearing down preconceptions while conjuring a massive and relentless groove that brooks no argument or resistance. Artful masters of their Machiavellian craft, the group play with the subtleties of light and shade, dominating heaviness and devastating metallic fury matched with a use of disarming melody and seductive beauty.
Theirs is the way of the serpent and the apple, whispered sedition and howling damnation, luring the unwary in with promises of knowledge and power, corrupting and turning them to the dark side without ever blinking a single, serpentine eye.
One of several of today’s black metal bands who take the doom-laden sound of Celtic Frost as a primary influence, Secrets Of The Moon differentiate themselves not only sonically, with their devastating guitar tone which reeks of death metal and industrial undertones, but also in terms of overall mood and direction. Whereas the music of Triptykon (the modern iteration of Celtic Frost in all but name) is an exercise in self-loathing and despair, the sound conjured up by Secrets Of The Moon is far more domineering, conjuring an esoteric balance of light and shade – even at their slowest (and the band are able to cultivate some truly choking, dark ambience throughout this record), the group wield their instruments like weapons, chopping and cutting with a passion that borders on fury.
The drawn-out opening of “Seven Bells” lures you in with its ominous intro of tolling bells and creeping, reverberant chords slowly building in power, as ghostly, whispered catechisms are introduced to accompany the track’s use of hauntingly erotic melody lines, the two combining to produce a reverent, almost sacramental tone. After several minutes of this black processional the track bursts into unholy life with that devastating guillotine-sharp guitar tone and massive, chanted vocals, which ooze malice and venom. The fingerprints of Celtic Frost/Triptykon are all over this track, smeared in blood upon the walls and hidden in its shadowy depths, as the band meld gloaming darkness with ethereal fire.
There has always been an undercurrent of sexuality to Secrets Of The Moon, a serpentine magnetism that manifests here in pulsing, ecstatic bass-lines and gasped, aching vocals of almost orgasmic worship. Though it is the album’s heaviest and most aggressive track, delivering tormented melody and oppressive heaviness in equal measure, “Goathead” has a throbbing undercurrent of priapic power, its chugging density and thunderous drums delivered with a primal, instinctual urgency.
Continuing this theme, “Serpent Messiah” has a rolling, rocked up beat that would put Satyricon to shame, its indecent sexual swagger accented by a hypnotic, snake-charming chorus, rasping reptilian vocals slithering and sliding obscenely. Heaving and groaning with thrusting heaviness and dominating power, the song dominates with sadistic joy, leading to a post-coital conclusion of little deaths, a slow, soporific stream of massive chords and brittle harmonics, over which a drained and drawn-out lead part plays out the song’s climax.
Denying the limitations of black metal’s entrenched orthodoxy, Secrets Of The Moon deliver a sacramental blessing of blood and shadow, spreading their message like missionaries of the morning star, ablaze with righteous black fire. Fittingly, the grinding dirge of “Blood Into Wine” begins with massive, tolling guitar chords, but soon descends into a driving, marching amalgamation of feverish tremolo guitar and vast, reverberant bass-lines, footsteps of the damned marching in perfect synchronicity. The finale of the song sees the band producing a cacophony of such unimaginable weight that it threatens to bring the entire edifice crashing down, eerie vocals intoning “What is this that thou hast done?” over and over in a cruel display of abnegation and abjection.
Extolling the virtues of damnation, the lengthy “Worship” employs a truly massive guitar tone that turns each hanging chord into an imposing monolith of concrete shadow, darkness set in stone, untouchable and unknowable, within whose mirrored surface seem to flit fragile reflections of light and melody, casting no image before them. A series of Satanic sermons are delivered in a mesmerising cadence, powerful and seductive, adding their entrancing benedictions to the track’s blasphemous communion. At around the half-way mark something starts to come through from the other side of the mirror, cloven-hoofed drums pounding out a primordial rhythm beneath a mantle of bleak, piercing harmonics and tremolo guitars, which drag the penitent listener across a field of shattered glass and broken dreams.
Demanding and uncompromising, this is an album that requires dedication and commitment, as epitomised by the two epic final tracks, “Nyx” and “The Three Beggars”. Refusing to be drawn into the all-out attack of their contemporaries, Secrets of the Moon roll and thunder through each track with stately, majestic grace, bewitching melodies and razor-sharp guitar lines combining into a calculated series of alluring atrocities and enchanting evil.
An epic conjuration, in every sense of the word, “Nyx” is a hymn to darkness given form, a grand cathedral of fallen hopes and dreams. Like a black mass, the song twists and turns through several different movements, transforming from its dark and claustrophobic beginnings into something altogether more beautiful and beguiling, subtle melodic counterpoints soaring above the arcane force of the band’s metallic ministry. The track transitions from an almost primordial swamp of suppurating riffage and coiled, taut bass-lines into a funereal ambience, as flowing waves of spellbinding keys wash over the listener, fading into nothingness beneath a veil of endless night.
With the tolling of the final bell, “The Three Beggars” signals the album’s final epitaph, bursting forth like liquid fire from a molten womb, which quickly cools into a barren and smoke-filled haze, dichotomous male and female vocals whispering like phantoms in the failing light. Rapturous and reverential, the track’s infectious chorus is a blackened blessing of scintillating hooks and martial rhythms. Vampiric guitars stalk the dying hours like midnight angels, while monstrous bass-lines growl like some ravenous beast, a demon barely held at bay, lying in wait just beyond the edge of sight. Throughout, a choir of damned voices intones “they rise, they fall” as a meditative mantra; but whether to soothe the beast back to slumber, or awaken it further, is unknown.
Truly part of black metal’s elite, Secrets Of The Moon effortlessly stand apart from their contemporaries with their brooding style and black-winged grace, all the while maintaining an oppressive and remorseless density, transcending the sonic limitations and expectations of their medium to produce a darkened tome of arcane artifice whose sheer, unrelenting weight and spirit-crushing heaviness serve to cripple the soul and break the will of the weak. Where other albums follow the black metal war-drums with blind devotion, content merely to beat and batter their opponents into submission, Seven Bells is far more insidious, choosing instead the path of seduction and corruption, misleading and beguiling the unwitting audience into willing participation in their copulating rituals of desecration.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The entirety of Seven Bells is available for streaming at the Prophecy Productions YouTube channel (here). Here are two of the tracks, followed by the official music video for “Nyx”: