If your introduction to Southern Lord was through labelmaster Greg Anderson’s purple-drank-metal unit Sunn O))), crossover black metallers Wolves in the Throne Room, or Celtic Frost worshippers Lair of the Minotaur, their direction towards hardcore elicits one of two reactions: “Well, here are some cool shorter songs,” or, Portlandia-style, “This label is OVER.” My stance is between the two, slightly tilting towards the former. Southern Lord Hardcore in 2010 was unstoppable – Black Breath, Masakari, Nails, and the band pertinent to this review, Italian antitheists The Secret, all put out bangers that showed that Anderson could get down with the more concise end of extreme music. In 2011, All Pigs Must Die were burning up the blogosphere, but even though Nails and Black Breath didn’t hide their love for Entombed, APMD felt like a copy of a copy. And will most folks remember Baptists? 2012 seems to be going better for the label – Black Breath put out another killer record, Enabler are one of the more promising new groups out, Xibalba brought moshable ignorance of the best sort, and best of all, The Secret’s got another fuck you to the Pope, entitled Agnus Dei.

If you thought Solve et Coagula shook the club, Agnus Dei is going to bring that shithole to rubble.

Despite the band’s hatred of the idea of God, Kurt Ballou, who may as well be co-owner of Southern Lord at this point, roped them into Godcity Studios again for his signature treatment. He’s famously described producing metal bands as a “technical challenge of, ‘How do I achieve the maximum amount of Satan?’,” and you can probably tell how high the Horned One is in the mix of Agnus. The Secret do share a little of the Sunlight affinity, but they’ve got a straightahead black metal fury not seen in their peers. This lends an mysterious quality to their music that makes for an excellent bridge between the different eras of Southern Lord. As such, Agnus continues in the same direction as Solve, but with that slight extra intensity that comes from a band heshing it out on the road and refining their craft in the studio. It’s an ideal growth – it’s both progressive and familiar enough to not alienate a mass part of the band’s audience.

One noticeable difference between Solve and Agnus is that there is less focus on the band’s doomier side on the latter. Both records may start with haunting samples, but The Secret opt for an immediate beheading on the title track, as opposed to the buildup of “Cross Builder” from Solve. Not to say that the band’s atmospheric side is gone, as “Vermin of Dust” and “Heretic Temple” both explore that side. It’s just that The Secret wants to flatline you with less grace this time around. The record ends with “Seven Billion Graves,” and while its title may have unconsciously been inspired by Birth A.D.’s “Kill Everybody,” this is no thrash redux. In fact, it’s more akin to Pantera’s “Sandblasted Skin.” For two minutes, the band rages, then silence. Just when you think the album’s over, the quarter bursts into amplifier worship that closes out the album. A neat trick, if not exactly subtle.

Like the Geto Boys, The Secret can’t be stopped. Now, all we need to happen is a tour with Acephalix. Bring on the split skulls!


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