Sound — 6
Not always difficult to spot but often difficult to define, post-hardcore is a genre whose prevalence emerged in the later nineties and bled into the 2000s as a sort of "new grunge" for an arguably younger crowd. Some of the more nuanced acts (believe it or not, My Chemical Romance's 2002 debut is a solid post-hardcore record) carry more dignity, but to a great extent post-hardcore is a hit-or-miss. It's been tried and worn by Christian acts, it's been run through the ringer by narcissists, and it's been the poster genre for various "scenes" (see: screamo) this decade. The sound consists most commonly of alternating sludge metal and hardcore punk, particularly in the realm of vocals (screaming and bright tenor). With their latest release, "Fragile Figures," Secrets plays to every rule in the book.
The record blasts off with the mach speed "How We Survive," proudly waving the genre's each and every stereotype and standing as the album's noisiest moment until halfway point "The Architect." Until then, most of the record is slightly poppier without sacrificing any of Secrets' borderline obsessive use of dark power chords and very safe drum work. It's easy enough to listen to, but there are very few adventurous moments to be had, and the album's lighter moments ("Maybe Next May," "Sleep Well, Darling") are simply juvenile. Perhaps the album's greatest hindrance is the inability to step out of the safe zone. One of the highlights of "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love" (hitherto the reference point for decent instrumental post-hardcore) was the inclusion of two extremely diverse guitarists, one from an English heavy metal background, the other playing in garage hardcore punk bands. Secrets has no such diversity: the guitar work is, as a rule, fast and furious. "Wasted Youth" has a very, very brief harmony, but this isolated blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment is literally the only instance of breaking that formula.
Any looking for a light, child-friendly introduction to post-hardcore may consider Secrets a good springboard, though the disadvantage would be in moving to less produced-sounding groups. Perhaps, coming from San Diego (one of the niche locations of the genre's development), the band is simply too close to post-hardcore itself. Rather than bringing in outside influence and putting a twist on the genre, they are as close to picture-perfect 2010s post-hardcore as one can possibly be. Having toured exclusively with like-minded musicians, perhaps they were destined for "Fragile Figures"' cookie-cutter sound. To summarize, any fans familiar with the genre should go straight to "The Architect," while those still on pop-punk will feel more comfortable with "Wasted Youth" or "Forever and Never." Ya p-ssies.
Lyrics — 5
While at this point the names are irrelevant, Aaron Melzer handles screaming while Richard Rogers is the bright tenor focusing on melody. One of the inherent hurdles one must leap through to create interesting post-hardcore of the brand Secrets do is having dignified vocal work. Well, Melzer is almost immediately out of the running; his technique is throaty and sadly telling of his age. Bless the boy for trying, but perhaps it's just hard not to sound silly as a young screamer. Bizarrely, his stronger moments are counteracted with terrible lyricism ("I hear these voices in my mind" or something of the sort). Someone throw the man a bone. Rogers is a typical tenor with lots of soaring melodies and straightforward tonality. Because he never varies, he never misses a beat, but there isn't anything differentiating him from the likes of Attack Attack! or Escape The Fate.
As mentioned, the lyrical work here is pretty shoddy. Lots of "we"s and "your"s going on; in short, the kind of stuff screamo loves to splatter all over its lyric book. The album's opening line is "My heart can only break so many times before I lose my faith in all mankind." That should say enough about the record as a whole; it's very simplistic and very emotional. This is one of the failings of the last decade in post-hardcore (as well as metal): blatancy in the lyrics. Even a band of the same genre here's the third My Chemical Romance comparison; apologies is leagues ahead simply for the fact that the message is communicated through analogy and storytelling.
It won't come as a surprise to anyone that heavy metal's heroes, Black Sabbath, have a song called "Iron Man" which stands at the pinnacle of their storytelling discography. The song is, as the title suggests, literally about an iron man. He may be a giant, he may just be man-sized; it doesn't really matter. The point here is that a band wrote a song about a metallic man that, when picked apart, is actually a pretty touching story. The message is there, but it requires active interpretation rather than passive absorbency. Secrets is a band writing for the latter; the message is very blatant, very open, and not exactly eloquent. How profound is ranting about "needing a fresh start" and that a couple "was always meant to fall apart," versus a message delivered through symbolism and anecdote? Secrets' lyricism borders on being childish. Each and every song is yet another self-deprecating tangent about how "a boy like me" doesn't "stand a chance against a girl like you." With music as heavy as post-hardcore can be, it seems comically disproportionate.
Overall Impression — 6
If you're a fan of profundity and provocation in hardcore, Secrets is the newest act to hate. How many self-centered speeches about brokenheartedness and failure in a relationship will it take before these bands will realize how ridiculous they sound? Describing what "these scars represent" may connect them to their audience, but it is neither progressive nor touching. It's overkill. In trying to sound adult ("You'll feel my wrath"), "Fragile Figures" ultimately demeans itself with juvenile terminology. What happened to larger-than-life figures, the strength in which is an aspiration to succeed? In 2013, Secrets does nothing but wallow in its own lethargy.