The United States holds its own as far as blistering, throat-clutching hardcore goes, just this year bearing witness to a startlingly high number of outstanding releases on Southern Lord alone. But it’s important to remember that crust punk and d-beat originated in Europe via the anarchic punk rock of Discharge, and later made all the heavier by Scandinavian stalwarts such as Wolfpack and Disfear. The sound has spread as far as Japan (Crow) and Brazil (Ratos de Porão), but eight years ago, Trieste quintet The Secret put Italy on the hardcore map with 2004’s Luce, a solid, portentous debut that went largely unheard on this side of the Atlantic, but ultimately caught the attention of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, who produced their 2010 breakthrough Solve et Coagula and this year’s fearsome hardcore maelstrom, Agnus Dei.
As hardcore goes, however, The Secret seldom plays it straight. Sure, the band flex their hardcore muscle fast, heavy, intense and off the rails, but within that range there’s a wide variety of stylistic variance, and experimentation beyond the four-chord simplicity of punk rock. Agnus Dei‘s title track, for instance, explodes with the blast beat fury and ominous, furiously picked chords of black metal. Yet, in short order, it surges back into a crusty four-four, darkened but devastating in its simplicity. On the other hand, “May God Damn All of Us” finds The Secret transferring their full-throttle assault into a relentless grindcore machine-gun rattle. After this pair of tracks, there’s really no turning back — you’re either signed up for The Secret’s extreme fury, or you need to get out before any further damage is done.
Past that threshold, however, there are more accessible moments in store, albeit sandwiched between a hearty dose of mosh-pit spar sessions and minute-long nightmares. “Post Mortem Nihil Est” has just a bit of boogie and swagger to its crunchy progression, and “Heretic Temple” is a sludgy, melancholy dirge that eerily trudges along rather than pummels. Not a traditional hardcore album, though The Secret often show their roots, Agnus Dei is the result of taking a fairly simple joyride and jacking it up into a white-knuckle death trip.
Stream: The Secret – “Agnus Dei”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.