Review Summary: Secret Band is a side project that flawlessly performs its purpose.
As far as side projects go, Secret Band is about as straightforward as they come - founded when its parent group was in between vocalists, it consists of most of the members of the Sacramento, CA based progressive post-hardcore band Dance Gavin Dance, minus lead singer Tilian Pearson. Given that their main band is known for the talent of the "clean" vocalists they enlist, Secret Band is their opportunity to prove that their frantic brand of guitar spasms and fast paced screams doesn't have to be grounded in any catchy choruses to work. And sure enough, it does, staying fresh by introducing much heavier elements while retaining all of the fancy guitarwork that makes DGD so interesting.
Considering how much of the spotlight vocalist Jon Mess got in Acceptance Speech, it's no surprise he's ready for the much larger role he plays on this release. He's almost unrecognizable from the scratchy, annoying voice he gave us on DGD's self-titled record, and though his vocals are monotone in delivery, he keeps the dynamic interesting with the sheer force he ejects his words with. In the past he's always focused on being playful over being intense, and it's appropriate that with the heavier tone here his vocals have switched gears to fit the mood.
Musically, the album veers between atonal madness and fleeting moments of melody. "Meat Fetish" and "Ladders" are Will Swan's interpretations of what modern hardcore should sound like, complete with plenty of crushing, honest-to-god breakdowns. "Delete the Believer" and "High Five" could have easily been (and maybe at some point were) DGD songs, with complex guitar melodies and constant shifts in intensity. Most of the songs here follow a combination of the two approaches. Each of them seems like a different answer to the question "What would DGD sound like if they were heavier"". The fact that all of the songs are unique but all seem to singularly embody that premise of the band is perhaps the greatest triumph of the album.
Without any singing or choruses, Secret Band doesn't have the accessibility that Dance Gavin Dance possesses, and its complexity-to-melody ratio means that it's not really as catchy or memorable as its parent band, either. But it was created to bring the aggressive and experimental aspects of DGD that have developed over the years to the center of the stage, and it does so tightly, interestingly, and dare I say, sexily.