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Secrets of the Sky - "To Sail Black Waters" (CD)

Secrets of the Sky - "To Sail Black Waters" CD cover image

"To Sail Black Waters" track listing:

1. Winter (9:05)
2. Decline (12:46)
3. Sunrise (7:43)
4. Black Waters (11:22)

Reviewed by on October 1, 2013

"Though comparisons to The Ocean and Isis may be thrown out, Secrets of the Sky excels because the band doesn’t conform to these comparisons."

From Oakland, California comes Secrets of the Sky, a group that likes their music to be forward-thinking, as proven by “To Sail Black Waters.” Now, this isn’t keyboard-laced prog metal, nor is it a sludge-fest. The band layers their music with multiple elements throughout the four songs on this album. That means that when the proceedings calm down, the background is full of airy keyboards or rousing guitar harmonies. There’s so much to process with “To Sail Black Waters” that the first listen might not get much of a reaction. Give it some time, and that feeling will transcend into one of immense joy.

Secrets of the Sky likes their songs long, with the shortest one hovering below the eight-minute mark. The band incorporates moody interludes, lengthy instrumental breaks, and extended outros to push the songs outward. There’s no padding to these songs, as every turn the music takes feels natural. Though the album isn’t an 80-minute monster, clocking in at half that time, there’s still so much to hear that much will pass a listener by.

That’s why “To Sail Black Waters” deserves at least half-a-dozen listens all the way through. It helps in ascertaining the flexible riff progression on “Decline” and the heavy melodic passages on “Black Waters.” The band wisely builds up to these moments of experimentation, as opener “Winter” is as straightforward as they get. The vocals stick mostly to harsh yells and raspy shouts, save for a whispered section, and the music is loaded with a heavy exterior.

The next three tracks change things up by using everything from pulsing synths to commendable melodic vocals. “Sunrise” has the most extensive incorporation of keyboards, though they aren’t a distraction or a cheesy attribute. They are a piece of the atmospheric puzzle the band looks to create with their music. They largely succeed too, which can be a tough task for any young band to accomplish. Their songwriting is confident, making 11 and 12-minute songs go over without many hitches.

“To Sail Black Waters” is one of the more intriguing albums to come out in recent memory. The songs weave around a multitude of styles, which all fit them well. The album has a coherency that, although doesn’t follow a particular theme, connects with the listener as a whole piece of music. Though comparisons to The Ocean and Isis may be thrown out, Secrets of the Sky excels because the band doesn’t conform to these comparisons. The band pushes beyond them to make their own mark in metal with “To Sail Black Waters.”

Highs: Lengthy songs that don't feel stretched out, feels like a complete work of music, great variety in the guitar and vocal department

Lows: Album takes a few listens to really sink in

Bottom line: Secrets of the Sky put out a gripping effort with the moody "To Sail Black Waters."

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)