Yet another highly anticipated 2011 release is upon us! This is the eighth crusade by the Greek masters of blackened death Septic Flesh and they brought a few new tricks with them as they refine their crazed classical music meets brutality approach. 2008′s Communion was hailed as a highly creative accomplishment and The Great Mass is a continuation and enlargement of that sound and concept. Taking their basic blackened death style and merging it with performances from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and a full choir, Septic Flesh have now become a full blown orchestral/symphonic death metal juggernaut. With a full orchestra involved, this is obviously going to be a bigger, more bombastic album and its hardly easy listening. While they traffic in the same over-the-top, dramatic theatrics as Therion, they manage to keep things much more linear (and therefore much more listenable). While bands like Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir have long employed symphonic orchestration to accent their sound, Septic Flesh have now embedded it into their core and made it an integral part of their make up and identity.
Opening track “The Vampire From Nazareth” gives you a great view of what to expect from The Great Mass. After a gentle intro with haunting female vocals, the instrumentation slowly swells and then erupts with the evil, rafter-shaking death roar of Spiros Antonious and staccato Behemoth styled riffing. From there it’s an insane ride as the deathÂ bludgeoning races alongside blasting horn sections and lunatic string sections sawing away. At 1:12 it sounds like a hellish carnival ride or the soundtrack to some psychopath’s dreams. My girlfriend dubbed this far too creepy to listen to and wanted none of it. At 2:50 it becomes more tranquil with gentle keys and moody chanting. This is an impressive song and heavy as hell. From there they deliver insane coaster rides with standouts like the eerie black metal inspired vibe of “A Great Mass of Death” (including a great moody, melodic interlude at 1:31), the oddly catchy, gothic-tinged death rocker “Pyramid God” and the near Euro-Power metal of “Therianthropy.” Partly a horror soundtrack, partly satanic ritual music, things never get boring, that’s for sure.
As chaotic and overloaded as their sound can get at times, this ends up being a very addictive and enjoyable listening experience and over repeated spins, it reveals more and more detail and nuance. Where I was put off by what Therion did on their last opus, the way Septic Flesh employs similar elements into more cohesive song structures works very well. While the guitar work is heavy and aggressive, it isn’t what I’d call complex and its based around simple riff structures. The complexity comes from the the overall mix of the myriad elements. What the riffs lack in intricacy they make up for in raw power. Between the drums, metal riffing and death croaks, this remains satisfying heavy even at the most symphonic moments. Also working extremely well are the clean vocals from guitarist Sotiris Vayenas. His segments are more placid, emotional and give some respite from the pummeling (especially on “The Undead Keep Dreaming”). While The Great Mass is a tad front-loaded with some of the later songs lacking the power and impact of the earlier ones, all hold interest and none are filler. The production is lush, enormous and allows all the many instruments to be picked out. That in itself is pretty impressive.
Like their fellow countrymen Rotting Christ and Nightfall, Septic Flesh continue to push the envelope and experiment with sound and dynamics. It must be something in the olives over there. I would put this a slight notch above Communion overall, mainly due to it’s wildly creative approach. It’s epic, grandiose, heavy and freaky. Full credit must be given for blending all the disparate elements into something so listenable and engaging. While I have some concerns they may be writing themselves into a corner with the whole “Behemoth meets Beethoven” approach, this is a very well done album and highly worth your time. It’s so Praguey!