Review Summary: Nothing to see here, folks8 of 10 thought this review was well written
The particular strain of post-hardcore/ metalcore that Secrets peddles in is stagnant. There’s no dancing around it. The use of screamed vocals in the verses, machine gun blast beats, mildly catchy and chuggy riffs, aggressive breakdowns, and the cheesy use of clean vocals during choruses is of a type so accepted within the style it’s more than formulaic; it’s dead in the water. Still, there are a great number of popular bands who continue to flog this dead horse, and still manage to receive adoration for it; Asking Alexandria, The Word Alive, Memphis May Fire etc. One thing that Secrets never set out to do was revamp the style, which is a shame, since they actually exhibit a fair amount of proficiency in their overall sound. In this case, the least they could do would be to perform the aforementioned style with some modicum of flair, which they undeniably do. With a sharp production and nice equalized sound between all the elements (yes, even the auto-tune), Secrets can at least stand tall and be counted, even if for nothing particularly groundbreaking. The more pressing issue though, is that we’ve heard this all before. Nothing on Fragile Figures
will surprise you; for all the glassy production values and nifty efficiency it never hits a peak in musical terms. Some of the tunes are catchy enough to sustain the mildly overblown running time, and any listeners who have found their tastes to lie in the realms of such a style could do much worse, but there isn’t enough general innovation or even interest during the album to justify its’ existence.
The album is best described as ‘fleeting’, or at the very least, ‘a passing fancy’. The first ten seconds of the album will tell any prospective listener everything they need to know, with such gimmicks as metalcore anthems in two parts, and pseudo-philosophical lyrical content covering a fairly wide range of topics typical to the genre, an ‘inspiring’ chord may be struck with younger listeners. Really though, the album obliquely struts from one assiduous composition to the next, demanding nothing but a vague semblance of attention from the listener, because the listener knows full well where the album is going to take them next. The difference in traversing unexplored and mapped territory is thus; the former is exciting. Sometimes it may feel a little troubling to not know where one is going, but it is secretly what music lovers crave. The latter differs because there’s comfort in knowing the lay of the land, but this comfort is promptly swallowed by a sense of complacency that rewards expectancy on the part of the listener, because nothing will be a surprise. Fragile Figures
keeps to the straight-and-narrow in this respect, and may follow the map very rigidly, but is also utterly devoid of modifications. Second track on the release 'Ready For Repair' encompasses the majority of the album in this respect. The overall effect is extremely camp but the implementation of the clean vocals never feels sloppy, which is to the band’s credit. The ‘tacky’ really comes to a head with the ridiculously overused chorus however, which is an overload of dowdy energy. The cleans seem to be very high pitched against the backdrop of the abrasive screaming, and the chug-along pattern of the music struggles to make any real impact. Such musical patterns give the release the unfortunate Emmure-stylistic of making the songs feel like one overlong breakdown, but the band do at least break up the monotony with more melodious interludes, even mock-electronic warps in the sound, such as on 'Infinite Escape'.
The sooner the ‘core industry ends its infatuation with poorly placed breakdowns, the better. A breakdown, by definition (in metallic terms, at least), should be a violent shunt out of the song’s structure and into a vicious, climactic warp of the music so far experienced. Secrets do the honorable thing and actually keep their breakdowns in-keeping with their aesthetic, but this only serves to make them all the more alike. The bass crunches, the guitars chug in a shuddering tempo, and the drums plod meekly in the background like a loyal canine. It’s so without the depth the more acclaimed bands in the genre have established, one wonders why they even bothered in the first place. The best breakdown on the album, which is found on 'Live Together, Die Alone', has much the same kitsch appeal of some of the heavier tracks by A Day To Remember (A former member of which, incidentally, produced the band’s first full-length, The Ascent
), such as 'Sticks & Bricks' and '2nd Sucks'. The breakdown is tight and actually has some gall to it, with the pummeling bass and jutting guitars demonstrating surprising fidelity. Don’t be fooled, it’s still not much different from the rest of the album’s breakdowns, but it definitely stood out to me. A number of the rest of them are prefaced by angry grunts, dry heaves, and, in one painfully daft addition, the declaration of “You’ll Feel My Wrath!”. It feels awkward, and dated in a bizarrely garish way. This is featured on track 'Artist vs. Who?', which elsewhere exhibits a cliché uplifting tone in the clean choruses, and a cliché heavy tone in the verses. If you haven’t been paying attention; exactly like the rest of the album.
The very slight bright sparks that try their best for attention are usually drowned in the instances meretricious is thrown back into the gaudy mix, which is, admittedly, rather frequent. The second of a (very loosely) two-part track, 'The Architect' is able to show a fortuitous judgment of piano and forte, plunging the listener vivaciously into both with admirable bile. It’s rather a shame that the track begins to feel stale after a relatively short space of time, feeling like just more padding in the context. This feeling of vacuousness hits a remarkably unpleasant peak on one of the worst and most blundering displays of aimless frivolity in recent memory from the genre, and this is on the final track, 'Sleep Well, Darling'. If the title wasn’t enough of a mistake, everything the song itself stands for is just as forgettable and trite. This is a trait a number of similar bands are guilty of, many of them very promising; this is the issue of the misjudged ballad. There is nothing, truly, nothing, as horrendously off-putting as shoehorning in a diabetes-inducingly sweet love song into an album of quintessentially ‘heavy’ music. Like others before them, Secrets place this embarrassment as the last word on Fragile Figures
, as if in an attempt to sweeten the before-now rather bitter pill. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this, but this particular track is the worst I have heard of this type since Architects’ 'Heartburn'. An acoustic guitar charmlessly accompanies the vocals and their sickly-sweet tone, trilling together in a forced shambles of duet sensibilities. The album suffers all the more for it because the shift in tone is so jarring it’s almost barbaric, and, bizarrely, the album is more powerful in this instant that it is in any moment of the noise that precedes it. It simply should not be.
Secrets have returned a mere year after their debut full length, which will no doubt please enthusiasts but will leave the rest of us with no illusions as to what exactly went wrong here. The band have been through a lineup change, replacing both their harsh vocalist and bass guitarist in the interval, and happily, the band does seem to have improved their overall sound. This is mostly to the credit of the production though, and even though the added sense of catchiness is a welcome addition, the songwriting leaves a lot to be desired. There’s no subtlety in the construction of the compositions, and the alternation between hard-hitting and lightly tuneful song structures lacks deftness. In addition, the uncomfortable shifts in pace are lamentable and demonstrate the band’s still dominant musical immaturity. Despite these pitfalls the album constantly succumbs to, the band carry out their task with admirable vigor and finesse, so at least there is evidence that the band’s activity is not half-hearted. On top of this, the screamed vocals aren’t half band; the same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the clean vocals, which are too high-pitched and thus seem too sharp a contrast. Ultimately, though, it is the band’s second release, and there’s every hope that they will pull something truly interesting out of the bag third go round. However, if the progress between first and second release is anything to gauge ability by, it’s quite a big ask.