Review Summary: Septic Flesh release their tour de force, an album that actually astounds by not caving in on itself under the sheer weight of its very creators' ambitions.
Be strong, readers, because this is what they'll say: 'But this is no different than any of the other bloated symphonic projects from bands like Cradle of Filth
and Dimmu Borgir
, bro.' That's what those in opposition, the enemies, the unbelievers of The Great Mass
will hit you with immediately when you recommend this album to them in your next music list or during your next social gathering, what have you. For Septic Flesh (or Septicflesh, one word, following their 2008 reunion) will be facing stark levels of resistance from many music fans with their new album, even more so than their 2008 critically well-recieved Communion
, and seemingly by advertisement alone, they rightfully should: these Greek metallers have gone completely overboard with their creative ambitions. Big, grandiose, and to those with set ears against show-y production values, pompous, The Great Mass
is what many traditionalists of death metal will hate, ridicule, and are sure to make comical example of, without having even listened to it.
Indeed, on paper The Great Mass
is a disaster of epic proportions waiting to happen. But do you know what is so awesome about it? Septic Flesh pull it off. Yeah, the grizzly, long-haired bastards somehow actually pull it off. The incorporation of the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of Prague, and blackened death metal, all centered around a firm melodic base fed through the bark and snarl of Spiros Antoniou and the clean harmonizing vocals of Sotiris Vayenas, come together for the band's strongest release thus far. They escape the pitfalls of contemporaries Hollenthon
and The Monolith Deathcult
with The Great Mass
by placing their artistic vision on an equal playing field with their talents as a band, none higher, none lower, this time while escaping the cheesiness that kept key sections of Communion
back as well.
's "Sunlight/Moonlight" and "Anubis" were the main offenders of said cringe-worthy moments, Vayenas' cleanly sung choruses often ruining the driving, relentless mood of the blackened death metal songs. But this time, however, Vayenas is placed in a more subordinate, harmonizing role to that of Antoniou on The Great Mass
, and the difference to be heard between Communion
and its songs is worth noting because of it. On first single "The Vampire From Nazareth", Vayenas harmonizes with the choir on a beautiful concluding vocal line that brings what was a sweeping orchestrated death metal assault on the senses to a peaceful refrain. Latter cut “Apocalypse”, featuring some of the album’s best songwriting, has the singer playing second fiddle to the bassist, joining in at the song’s second chorus with a powerful, and catchy, dual vocal performance of cleans and growls. The two work in perfect union with each other this time out, even making careful, noteworthy use of the choir vocals for maximized effect.
The interplay of the vocalists are not the only area that Septic Flesh show unity among its, and the orchestra's, members, though. Surely to be pertinent to any fan of Communion
is the band's own humility when it comes to following the Philharmonic Orchestra’s lead on The Great Mass
. The sweeping and enthralling instrumental heights that are reached by “Oceans of Grey” because of the orchestra’s direction and prevalence in the mix is among the greatest of the album's highlights, and the interplay between strings and guitars on "Mad Architect" showcase Septic Flesh letting the orchestra take the reins so that it might set the song's progressional path. No longer do the orchestrations feel tacked on, or more importantly, lacking in substance in the compositions. Septic Flesh have maximized the symphonic aspect of their music at least thrice-fold, and the results are powerful and driving.
Of course what's given to string beds and choirs is surely to be taken away from the 'metal' aspect of Septic Flesh's sound – or, once again, so it would seem on paper. Yet The Great Mass
overcomes said theoretical loss of its head-banging gauge with the band’s sense of balance in managing its incorporation of styles on the album. The addition of a powerful production job and mixing from Peter Tagtgren also aids in the balance of orchestra and metal in that Vayenas' guitar tone and Antoniou' soul-gripping growl are given a powerful edge and max volume in the final mix. If there's one thing holding The Great Mass
from a obtaining a classic title, though, it’s the ever so slight drop in quality that’s found in its middle section - "The Undead", in particular, with its relatively uneventful progression. But that’s really just a small flaw that does little to disrupt the flow or consistency of what Septic Flesh have unleashed upon all of us here with their best album yet. The Great Mass
is everything that extreme symphonic metal bands have ever wished to make, yet have all too often fallen short: it’s majestic, orchestrated, undeniably powerful, and is actually a marvel in itself by not falling apart at its seams under the sheer weight of its creators' ambitions. What Septic Flesh have accomplished with The Great Mass
is worth recognition and respect from all members of the metal community, traditional or not.