Varianta în română este publicată în ultimul număr al revistei The Intermission
This time, I suggest we return in time, to one of the spotlight moments in the history of modern black metal. September 2009 saw the official release of an album that, in the years to come, is surely going to be regarded as a true classic, a masterpiece that I believe deserves to be better known and appreciated by the public.
Secrets of the Moon presented their fourth full-length, Privilegivm, on the 18th of September 2009. It was released by prophecyBC via their Lupus Lounge division, well-known in the underground for its long time collaboration with other important extreme metal acts throughout the world. There were several editions, including a vinyl one, which was limited to 500 pieces and contained 9 tracks; however, the standard digipak included an extra bonus track, entitled A Million Suns. Coincidentally it is this very track that introduced me to this amazing German band, quite a few years ago.
There are a lot of things I really like about Privilegivm; one of them is the straight-forward way the music is written. Without mercy, without any useless gimmicks, it does not spare the listeners and, even since the epic 2-minute intro with Gregorian chanting, they are thrown in a spiraling plummet towards the tenebrous and exotic style that Secrets of the Moon has come to be known for. The intro offers one no chance to accommodate to the atmosphere and sound of this album, it throws you in a realm devoid of light but filled with emotions. Even though it seems empty and desolate at a first glance, it is in fact nothing close to the aforementioned terms. While most black metal bands choose to offer their listener a desolate, empty and cold sound, Privilegivm paints a landscape of flesh and bone, intense, dark, oppressive yet strangely warm and close to the heart if properly understood. The transition between the intro and the first proper song is extremely smooth and cursive; the sensation is that the flow is natural. All this, thanks to the cleverly composed drums which have similar interventions throughout the material. These details are another characteristic of this unique creation: most extreme metal bands build the drum interludes around fast paced, brutal blast beats, but Secrets of the Moon does the very opposite. The bonus track A Million Suns is one good example in this case. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some blast beats, but these do not alter Privilegivm’s heavy, dark atmosphere and their role is more or less purely ambiental.
band logos – old and new
Another thing that captivates me when it comes to this masterpiece is the ingenious merging of two very different genres of music – grunge and black metal. sG (his real name is Philipp Jonas), the founder, main composer and frontman of this band has repeatedly reminded that major influences to his songwriting are Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, music groups that he is also a fan of. As Secrets of the Moon evolved and matured, the inclusion of grunge traits into their sound became more and more common, especially if we focus on the vocals and some guitar riffs. For example, in Queen Among Rats, a heavy and dark song which amazed me with the vocal parts, such features can be heard; Shepherd is an unexpectedly soft outro for a relatively aggressive material, but at the same time it is extremely intense and unbreakably tied to the previous tunes, even though it uses clean vocals, also heavily influenced by the darker works of grunge bands. Privilegivm, somehow, foresees Secrets of the Moon’s next release, Seven Bells, which saw more widespread use of clean vocals and includes these influences on tracks such as Nyx or The Three Beggars; their last full-length, Sun, released in 2015, eliminated harsh vocals almost completely.
Privilegivm limited editions photographed by propehcyBC
Most songs on Privilegivm are slow paced, given that black metal is mostly known for its speed and brutality. Even though For They Know Not or Queen Among Rats have a very slow tempo, they are the most intense and most powerful tracks on the album. They seem earthbound, close to the primal heart and instincts of the human being; if I were to be asked to think of a single word that would perfectly describe the music, I would choose carnal. This is why I stated before that Privilegivm has a strangely warm feeling; it talks to the listeners in a way that, deep within themselves, they find familiar. I, Maldoror, A Million Suns and Harvest are also catchy – the lyrics are easy to understand and remember since they are in perfect harmony with the instrumental, the pronunciation is clear and the riffs, simple but brilliantly written, get easily stuck in one’s head.
Secrets of the Moon’s latest works have a specific atmosphere, and this one is no exception. The guitars have a raw, dense sound, accompanied by a subtle yet always present bass; even though the keyboards can be heard only on a few occasions, they are essential in those moments, while the drums alternate between obsessive, ritual rhythms and more commonly heard black metal patterns. Like the following materials, the album is primitive (in a positive way, of course), pure and instinctual, full of uncensored emotion and therefore it is a proof of the German artists’ evolution. It is also quite minimalist in approach, and the cover illustrates this perfectly: a hollow black apple, apparently made of steel, with a huge hole on one side, all against a simple, two-color background. Privilegivm is not complex, since it relies mostly on repetition and slow tempo to create its unique ambient, yet the songs are progressive in their nature and have a linear evolution. The production helps a lot in this case – it brings forward the atmospheric and primitive character that I appreciate so much.
If I hadn’t already listened to Sun, I would have thought that Privilegivm was Secrets of the Moon’s zenith. However, there is something that has failed to impress me on this masterpiece: the lyrics. I believe that they are too easy to understand, too straight-forward and obvious in their message. I think that, for a direct and raw album like this one, more subtle, ambiguous and modern texts would have been better. Motifs such as the snake, the tree of life, sun and darkness are everywhere; however, their portrayal might seem a bit stereotypic and similar to that of other musicians from those years.
The general impression is what matters the most. Privilegivm is too young to become a classic but it fully deserves more respect and fame – it is a revolutionary, unique and interesting album, a turning point for sG and his artistic career and for the band that he has been part of for so many years. It foresees their future creations and the way that they would take in the years to come. I am sure that, when the day is right, this masterpiece will be regarded as one of the classics of its genre. So, go now and listen to it, find it and buy it because it is damn worth it!
Personal rating: 9/10