Portrait Of A Dying Heart is much more polished then Secret Sphere’s previous album Archetype, which was hampered by dismal musicianship and so-so songs. Former vocalist Ramon Messina was a particular weak point even though he was popular with the band’s fan base, but his replacement, Michele Luppi (Vision Divine), competently shores up the sag in Secret Sphere’s symphony.
Listeners have to wait with crossed arms and a tapping foot for Luppi’s debut on the album. Portrait Of A Dying Heart starts out with the title track, a six minute pastiche of power metal pounding, which eventually runs out of ideas and collapses into “X” and finally, Luppi’s bravura vocals. He makes a solid difference with his frontmanship. Messina may be missed, but Luppi burrows through in outstanding fashion from Secret Sphere’s dense tracks.
Portrait Of A Dying Heart is a concept album based on the novel “She Complies with the Night.” The novel propels the concept along with purple references to life intermingled with dreams. “X” might have missed the mark on the concept, but it may also refer to the ten tracks on the album or perhaps an early ten o’clock bedtime for power metal bands.
“Wish & Steadiness” follows “X”, after a sidetrack passage of movie soundtrack ExtenZe, and shares the same beat craziness. Sound Sphere knows what it’s doing with guitar solos, but they are so metronome-challenged that they seem unable to maintain a time signature longer than ten seconds. Portrait Of A Dying Heart actually gets into the quality stuff when “Union” appears. Luppi pushes his talent harder and the background vocal hooks are pure ear candy. “The Fall” ticks along quite briskly and demonstrates the band’s affection for Queen, Queensryche and “The Queen of Hearts.”
Sound Sphere uncorks all they have on “Healing.” It flows with all that’s delicious about power metal. Unfortunately it’s hurt by a criminally uneven mix, as is the entire album. It’s inexcusable that Sound Sphere’s best album is crushed down by ten tons of cardboard.
The reason for such nitpicking is that this really is Sound Sphere’s finest effort. If fans crank this album to nuclear levels then things like mix and dynamics don’t matter. Performances are excellent, songs are suitable power metal epics and Portrait Of A Dying Heart is a picture of immortal gutsiness for a band that has searched an X amount of years to find this kind of pulse.
(released November 27, 2012 on Scarlet Records)