December 5, 2023

Secret Sphere is a quite outstanding Italian rock band that has successfully fused symphonic and progressive metal with a hint of pomp rock to become probably one of the best bands you have never heard of or maybe only just have a passing acquaintance with. In truth, I simply cannot understand why they have not received more acclaim as they are certainly one of the best prog metal bands around and every new album sees them add another facet to their sound.

The band was formed in Alessandria in northern Italy in 1997 by the much sought after guitarist and producer Aldo Lonobile who has already raised his profile as high as it can get through the metal band Death SS and the Frontiers projects with Sweet Oblivion (featuring the one and only Geoff Tate), Edge Of Forever and Archon Angel (alongside the legendary Zak Stevens).

Blackened Heartbeat is now the band’s 10th studio album with each release being a triumph of pomp driven prog metal with the recent releases also showing an increase in power and a much heavier delivery. It should be no surprise that there have been several changes in personnel given their over 25-years history with just Lonobile and bass player Andy Buratto remaining from the original line-up but the big (and good) news for their last album, 2021’s Lifeblood, was the return of the original singer Roberto ‘Ramon’ Messina who originally left in 2012 being replaced by Michele Luppi of Vision Divine and Whitesnake acclaim and he did a brilliant job but it always felt that the gig truly belonged to Messina. The band is completed by long-time members Gabriele Ciaccia on keyboards and Marco Lazzarini on drums with both joining in 2009 and 2013 respectively so there is a great deal of synergy between musicians who know each other so well. The team is joined on this release by Antonio Agate who is responsible for the orchestrations throughout and this is a big part of the epic sound that Secret Sphere impart into their delivery.

The pomp element in the band meant that several of their earlier albums had something of a sound of Magnum to them but the heavier approach now sees the band operating in Vanden Plas, Seventh Wonder and Edguy territory and they do it so well especially as the new material has a distinct epic and symphonic sound to a background of cataclysmic drums and bass over which Lonobile and Ciaccia lay down wondrous layers of guitars and expressive keyboards with Messina again proving just what a great metal vocalist he is. The songs are heavy on riffs and with a darker edge as befitting something of a concept work exploring the tale and descent of a psychologist (the Dr Julius B as listed in the song titles) in an atmospheric journey as he steals the emotions of his patients, a deep and dark album for a truly terrifying storyline.

Blackened Heartbeat sees the band reinforcing their progressive and power metal credentials and puts them at an important crossroads as they seem to be moving more into the very technical metal territory of bands like Evergrey and Pain Of Salvation and they have done it so very well. Crucially, there remains the overriding sense of melody throughout with the songs being relatively short but perfectly paced and played with vigour and passion, the expected huge choruses and the usual masterful display on guitar from Aldo Lonobile.

If you only know Secret Sphere from their earlier albums then prepare to be amazed and impressed by their new direction and if a new name then you really ought to check them out as the band totally deserves to be huge.

Blackened Heartbeat