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Secret Chiefs 3 - Book of Horizons CD (album) cover

BOOK OF HORIZONS

Secret Chiefs 3

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.21 | 68 ratings

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Pnoom!
4 stars A polarized album.

Secret Chiefs 3 is yet another very good American avant-garde band (RIO and avant prog is the only prog sub-genre where America is top of the heap), a genre I have recently been getting very much into (both the European and American ends of things), and one I have very much enjoyed, largely due to the enormous wealth of excellent material found within it. This album (well, most of it, anyway) is no exception. It is an absolutely wonderful album, a hidden gem that cannot be ignored if you like avant- garde music (or, really, even if you don't). And yet, it still has its fair share of problems.

The biggest problem, is, as I pointed out is that it is a somewhat polarized album, meaning that it hits highs and lows separated by vast margins. The highs are very, very high, but the lows are equally low (if not more so), and thus the album is somewhat inconsistent. To be fair, this fourteen-song album has twelve highs and a mere two lows, but those two lows are rather conspicuous, and are enough to spoil most of the effect of the rest of the album. These lows are the two death metal songs, Exterminating Angel and Hypostasis of the Archons. While the rest of the album sees the Chiefs creating delightful moods and textures (even some amazing metallic moments in there, too), these two songs are busy "exterminating" the flow of the album, completely disrupting the textures created, which I don't appreciate. These songs take an otherwise perfectly flowing album (to test this, just listen to the album without the two aforementioned songs, and you'll find that it flows nearly perfectly, even across the breaks where those two songs would have been) and reduce to it to a somewhat patchy and disjointed album. Also, I'd like to point out that this isn't a personal vendetta against death metal songs. There are plenty of such songs that I greatly enjoy (the most notable example has to be Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Of Natural History album, one of my favorite albums of any genre and highly influenced by death metal). What particularly bothers me here is that, no matter how good those two songs might have been, they would not have been able to get past the fact that death metal just doesn't fit in with the vision of the rest of this album. It's only made worse by the fact that they just aren't very good in the first place.

But, after that long rant which may well have completely turned you off the album, I'd like to redeem it. Because, those twelve highs are truly quite high, and you won't want to miss it. Secret Chiefs 3 blend a variety of influences and styles, from avant-garde to metal (instrumental, unlike the death metal tracks, and much more fitting to the theme of the album) to symphonic to ethnic to a little bit of just about everything else, and the Chiefs make it all work to perfection. There is a sweeping grandeur to some tracks, an ominous nature to others, but more importantly, they are all great songs individually, and they all fit on the album. It's impossible to pick a favorite, because I find myself enjoying nearly equally the almost post-rock of The End Times and the ethnic The 4 (Great Ishraqi Sun); I find the crazy avant-garde nature of On the Wings of the Haoma just as endearing as the movie soundtrack-esque Book T: Exodus. It's all very good, done in an intelligent manner, the result is an amazing album. The band members display a stunning grasp of the technique of using music to create moods and textures, but never lapse towards boredom. There is always energy in some form or another, and that is one of the greatest things I can say about any album.

Nevertheless, I can't treat the two death metal tracks as non-existent for the sake of this review, because they are most conspicuously present. What I can do (and what I strongly urge all of you to do after your initial listen), thankfully, is treat them as non-existent when I listen to the album. What I mean is that I can skip over them without (as I said earlier) disrupting the flow of the album (and, again as I said earlier, the flow improves). If you like avant-garde, this album is essential. If don't, or if you simply don't know the genre, this album is an easy way in, showing just how effective avant-garde music can be without overwhelming you. So, despite being polarized, this is a win-win album, unless you simply don't like music (though, with music like this around, I can't imagine why you wouldn't). Recommended.

Author's Note: I recently come to enjoy the death metal tracks, and so I am updating the rating to four stars. 05/07/07

Pnoom! | 4/5 |

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