Secret Sphere - Portrait Of A Dying Heart
Quarter Century Flame
Speed Metal Romanticism
12 songs (57:09)
Release year: 2012
Secret Sphere
Reviewed by Ben
Archive review

2012 marked a very big year for Secret Sphere. Not only did John Cusack save the world from the Mayan Apocalypse, but longtime singer Robert Messina left the band after singing on six albums, five of which are pure essential speed metal done Italian style. Well, to replace the longtime voice of the band, Secret Sphere scored a major win in getting former Vision Divine frontman Michele Luppi. Anyone who has heard the guy on Vision Divine's Stream Of Consciousness or The Perfect Machine knows this dude can sing his ass off. He slots in very nicely with the band and yes, I do miss Robert Messina, but he does do live guest appearances with the band now so I guess I gotta accept that. Thankfully, the music contained here is of pretty high quality. Portrait Of A Dying Heart also is a concept album and this one's interesting. The main character is a girl named "X," and the album story consists of her intense lucid dreams and emotional connections with people.

The band decides to take a risk and open the album with the full fledged instrumental title track. Coming in at six minutes, this is kind of like an overture for the album's theme. Guitars cover a wide palette of sounds by going from heart wrenching melodies that sound torn from a soul's fading essence, to heavy, almost Pantera style crunch riffing. In this one composition you get a strong feel for what the rest of the album will contain. The first track with vocals is about our main character and is named after her, X. Oh man, this begins with such a powerfully emotive intro. Ringing power chords, delicate acoustic guitars, and then a stirring electric guitar solo with mind melting bends that feels like melancholy personified. There's another really cool piano moment here with some ringing notes before we get introduced to Michele. He quickly commands the listener's attention with forceful singing as the song kicks into pure speed metal mode for most of the rest of the duration. Wish And Steadiness has a dramatic as all hell orchestral and operatic choir intro. It quickly crescendos into a maelstrom of voices and strings before suddenly going silent. I was expecting something heavily orchestrated after this intro, maybe in line with what was on Sweet Blood Theory. Instead, this is yet another excellent speed metal song. It really is cool to hear Michele's voice singing on these songs. He definitely has a more aggressive sound to be found here than he did with Vision Divine yet still retains profound control over his voice.

Union is not quite a ballad even though it starts off with really cool cleanly picked acoustic guitar arpeggios. As soon as the up tempo drums kick in with the electric guitars though, you realize this isn't a "full ballad." This is more like some of their more emotional songs such as I Won't Say A Word and a bit faster More Than Simple Emotions. And just like those live staples, this one is a keeper. Since we slowed down a bit and got a bit sensitive there, we gotta have the next track be the heaviest on the album. The Fall brings back that crunchy riffing style we heard in the title track, replete with guitar squealies (pinch harmonics). Healing begins with the oddest keyboard intro the guys have done so far. It actually sounds like an EDM metal band intro but you know, you just know Secret Sphere aren't gonna start crab hopping. Thankfully the rest of the tune is pure ass kickery and it actually contains the best guitar solo on the album. Aldo Lonobile is one of the most underrated lead guitarists out there. Because of him, Secret Sphere's penchant for "romantic" melodies cause them to be wholly unique amongst everyone else in metal. How he creates these melodies that drip sweet ambrosia is through techniques such as slides, string bending, and sexcellent vibrato.

Unfortunately, now we come to the ballad heavy second half. Out of the next five numbers, three of them are ballads. Oof. However, nestled in between all these ballads is a semi eponymous track that is speedy and contains a much needed shot of energy, Secret's Fear. At first I thought this was the "real" name of the band, but then Michele starts singing that his sphere is black, so well, hell I dunno. What's really odd is that there is a track called The Rising Of Love that has a definite "finale" feeling to it, but then it's followed by yet another ballad, this one even longer, called Eternity. Normally this would be kind of a letdown to end the album with. But, the bonus track tacked on here reignites the flame of glory. The very last song is actually a re-recording of Secret Sphere's orgasm inducing Legend with ROBERT MESSINA on vocals! Robert utilizes a slightly more controlled tone with little bits of added nuance. Hell, it's been over ten years since he originally recorded the song! While most re-recordings are fairly tepid, this is fantastically done. Slightly different keyboard tones are used but this is most definitely a rendition that stays faithful to the feel of the original. Kind of strange to have a song with a different singer on the end, but it feels like a sincere tribute to Robert and also winds up being a wonderful parting gift for the fans.

Portrait Of A Dying Heart is an album that succeeds despite having to overcome the loss of a career long singer. Secret Sphere establish a slightly new identity with Michele at the helm while still retaining all the elements that made them so great which is no easy feat. While I can definitely hear Robert Messina's voice on several of the tracks here, Michele doesn't sound like he's just recycling vocal melodies or simply mimicking what came before him. I'm gonna take another wild speculative guess and say that some of this album was written when Rob was in the band, but the guys quickly adapted to Mr. Luppi. Following this release, Secret Sphere would record a double live album in Tokyo. Based on the strength of Portrait Of A Dying Heart, that one is definitely on the list now.

Killing Songs :
X, Union, Healing, Legend (2012)
Ben quoted 86 / 100
Other albums by Secret Sphere that we have reviewed:
Secret Sphere - The Nature Of Time reviewed by Ben and quoted 69 / 100
Secret Sphere - Archetype reviewed by Ben and quoted 90 / 100
Secret Sphere - Sweet Blood Theory reviewed by Ben and quoted 87 / 100
Secret Sphere - Heart and Anger reviewed by Ben and quoted 93 / 100
Secret Sphere - Scent Of Human Desire reviewed by Marty and quoted 80 / 100
To see all 8 reviews click here
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