Self-taught musician and multi-instrumentalist, Herman Martinez, is back with a brand new album entitled, “Secret Doors Hidden Stairs: Season 2”. The singer-songwriter from New Jersey, who enjoyed a fair share of critical acclaim with his 2015 release, “Solopsi Radio” – a collection of experimental progressive rock songs – has once again partnered with engineer and producer Ahmed Mahmoud, to bring us 10 dynamic tracks of superlative rock extraction. Also assisting behind the boards is engineer Chase Cassara, while the creative and powerful timekeeping is provided by drummer Hank Yaghooti.
“Secret Doors Hidden Stairs: Season 2”, is primarily described as “an album about new beginnings and realizing inner potential.” This music exists in its own world, a trait it has in common with classic prog-rock albums. The production invokes images of a place that’s mostly mysterious, with objects and scenes forming and dissolving into and out of the darkness and light. A meditative world, perhaps. There’s certainly enough introspective reflection to go around for it to be one. There is a handful of relatively conventional rock songs on the album, but much of “Secret Doors Hidden Stairs: Season 2” is devoted to soundscapes that, while not entirely abstract, aren’t exactly grounded inside strict monotonous borders.
These songs are fascinating because they take particular elements from 90’s grunge music and give them a progtastic modification by using a blend of electric and acoustic instrumentation and arrangements from the expansive 70s progressive rock scene. In fact, one of the best things about this album is that there’s a great stylistic balance; the album combines multiple atmospheres, rhythms and sounds, but distributes them all very well.
You’ve got the opening song “Season Premiere” which kicks things off with a hard-hitting percussive beat and jangling guitars, getting the listener pumped, which is then followed by the beautiful mid-tempo “Emerther” stooped in layered guitars as well as multiple harmonies.
“Paracosm” is the track in which the project’s organic sound comes strongly into play, alongside the airy melody and unrepressed arrangement. “Pareidolia” is you regular epic instrumental which starts softly and slowly before building into a sonic crescendo. “Magic Squares” is built on a euphoric and infectious melody.
A quite remarkable piece of music it showcases Martinez’s grasp of dynamics and houses a sledge-hammer chorus section and Yaghooti’s remarkable drumming talents. This majestic and rapturous vocal formula is almost repeated in totem on “Apartment 10”, before sliding into the smoother “Secret Identity”.
On “The Gardener”, Herman Martinez’s vocals lifts an accessible tune to the chorus, where back-up harmonies shower over the catchy refrain before returning to the impressive acoustic-driven opening charge. “John Travoltrons Theme” alludes to a softer more delicate instrumental, before the project storms out of the gate with blistering guitars and heavy drums riffing through a sequence of tricky time signatures.
The album closer, “Season Finale” is an absolute monster of a track that summarizes everything this recording is about, featuring both the album’s mellowest, and more aggressive moments all within one composition.
So here’s my question: with technically proficient rock groups now abound, where is a progressive rock fan to turn for new music with melodic sensibility and boundary pushing arrangements? One answer is “Secret Doors Hidden Stairs: Season 2”.
This is an impressive album that drips with melodic progressive rock influences. But what sets this album apart is that Herman Martinez, was clearly set upon constructing intelligent popular music, not just bizarre and loud technical excursions.