Septicflesh - _The Great Mass_
(Season of Mist, 2011)
by: Kostas Sarampalis (9.5 out of 10)
Septicflesh and I have a very long history. Back in '94 I was given their _Mystic Places of Dawn_ debut, together with Emperor's _In the Nightside Eclipse_.  Beyond Amorphis with their magnificent _Tales From the Thousand Lakes_, my death and black metal soundscapes were extremely poor. Septic Flesh (as they were known back then, a rather unfortunate name choice as their future career proved it to be, but let bygones be bygones -- on an interesting note, they almost changed their name to Moon Dragon I think, but they were already well known by that time, to take the risk of a name change) were different to my ears. They had something exotically unique, at least to my eighteen year old ears. It wasn't just the extraordinary "Mythos" that concludes their debut. It was the fact that they seemed to instantly establish a firm identity with their very first album.

They took their unique take of death metal into various forms throughout the years, with some very interesting albums (_The Ophidian Wheel_ and _Sumerian Daemons_) and some not so much (I still cannot stomach most of _Revolution DNA_). But they stayed unique until they decided to call it a day, surprisingly after their most successful endeavour in the form of _Sumerian Daemons_. Perhaps it was Chris' musical studies abroad or perhaps they needed to reconstitute again as a band, but the fact is they reborn their musical beast again and _Communion_ was an excellent return, perhaps a prologue of what I think is their crowning achievement, this beast of an album that is _The Great Mass_.

Fast forward seventeen years and Septicflesh are enjoying a second breath of life that sees them stronger, more talented and more creative than ever. Bombastic symphonic death metal (make no mistake, this is no black metal that this bunch of Greeks have been unleashing since their early steps) is no easy feat and there are very few bands that have gone down that route. Whatever anyone tells you, this is no Dimmu Borgir that you will hear in _The Great Mass_ despite the use of a full live orchestra, which is a first for this band. More to the point, there are very few bands who have successfully merged an orchestra with violent black or death metal (Dimmu Borgir are not one of these bands). What usually happens is that one of the two genres gets lost in translation. Perhaps due to Chris' music studies, perhaps of Sotiris' ample imagination or perhaps due to Spiros' supreme guttural vocals (as unique as you may ever encounter, he is simply awesome), or most likely -because- of all these, _The Great Mass_ treads perfectly balanced between aggression and symphony.

Except for the rather uninteresting "The Dead Keep Dreaming", all songs in the album are extremely strong. Most have an immediate effect, something that will catch the listener's ear early, but there is a lot of room to let the songs breathe through repeat listens. The early single release that kicks off the album "The Vampire From Nazareth" is indicative of what to expect, but does not deal all the band's cards in one go. There is just so much condensed in under forty five minutes. I was particularly impressed by the haunted density of "A Great Mass of Death", the lunacy of "Mad Architect" and accessibility of "Apocalypse", the riffs that colour "Five-Pointed Star" and the appropriately named closer "Therianthropy" (what an incredible song name -- a Greek word that refers to the metamorphosis of humans to other animals) that makes a bit more use of Sotiris' clean vocals which are appropriately sparingly used throughout the album.

Even when they decide to copy from others, at least they copy from the best, as evident in "Pyramid God" and their adaptation of Clint Mansell's now famous theme from "Requiem for a Dream". I know the theme is nicked, but it is incorporated so well and the song is so grandiose that it is hard to feel anything but excitement on every listen. Personally, the song that touches me the most is half way in the album, the slow but oh so heavy "Oceans of Grey", that teeters  between heavy doom, death and symphonic mayhem. Two thirds in, the song suddenly breaks in the most achingly beautiful Greek clarinet theme that lasts mere moments, but for some reason makes me yearn for home (and I am no fan of Greek music or have any desire to live in Greece). It is the unmistakable (for me at least) nod to Stamatis Spanoudakis' masterpiece "Alexandros" (an epic album about Alexander the Great) that moves me, and the fact that the moment lasts long enough to make you long for more.

I was not hoping for too much from this album, only because I have learned that it is better to be pleasantly surprised without any expectations, rather than build up what is almost always unfulfilled ones. But _The Great Mass_ blew me away. Not on the first listen, but slowly the album grew on me and unveiled its nuances and magic to become my favourite Septic Flesh album bar none. It is that good. It is balanced, heavy, technical and bombastic, intriguing and everything a fan of the band could dream of.


(article published 15/5/2011)

4/6/2008 K Sarampalis 9 Septicflesh - Communion
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