Review Summary: The best Septic Flesh album to date, as well as the best album of 2011 so far.
Septic Flesh is one of the few proverbial diamonds in the rough in the modern death metal scene. In a musical genre filled with generic performances, poor structure, and outright chaos just for the sake of outright chaos, Seth, Sotiros, Christos, and Fotis have been creating interesting and varied death metal for the better part of 21 years. So it should come as no surprise that The Great Mass, the band’s eagerly anticipated follow up to 2008’s Communion, is another amazing effort. It might be early to say this, but it’s possibly the band’s best outing to date.
The album kicks off with “The Vampire from Nazareth”. The first thing one will notice when listening to the opening track is that the background is loaded with orchestral elements. Now, Septic Flesh has always had symphonic sounds on their albums, but this is a different kind of symphony. It appears that Septic Flesh have gone to the Dimmu Borgir School of Orchestra Usage in Extreme Metal, as that in fact was the first thing the orchestra on this album reminded me of. The band has combined the flowing, epic orchestras of Dimmu Borgir with the speed and intensity of death metal, coupled with a healthy dose of melody on many of the tracks. Along with the orchestras, female vocals are used sparingly throughout the album, as is the clean vocals of guitarist Sotiris Vayenas. Parts of songs, or even entire songs like “Pyramid God”, are very much akin to a style of melodic death metal that is not a total rip off of the Gothenburg sound. Every track has new tricks up its sleeves, making it a varied experience where during every listen the listener will find something new about a song that they didn’t notice before. If there’s any one thing I like in my metal music, it’s variety. I despise boring albums, and The Great Mass is anything but a boring album.
The two vocalists in Septic Flesh, growler & Seth Antoniou and clean singer & guitarist/keyboardist Sotiris Vayenas, come to the forefront whenever they are featured. Seth has a very Mikael Akerfeldt-like quality to him; this comes from the fact that Seth and Mikael’s vocal styles are very much alike. Both use a very guttural throaty kind of death growl that is so thick and powerful that you can feel their vocal cords ripping and tearing as they create their inhuman roars. It’s very much like listening to the roar of a lion, although the lion might have met his match in the form of Seth. Sotiris’ clean vocals, while not used as much as I would have liked for them to be used, are very interesting to listen to. Much like how Seth can be compared to Mikael from Opeth, Sotiris is very much comparable to Snowy Shaw from Therion. Sotiris uses a somewhat nasally singing style, which makes it sound unique amongst the crowd of weak sounding backup singers in metal today. The guitar offerings of Sotiris and Christos Antoniou vary between light finger-picked harmonies akin to early Mayhem, and fast paced, face ripping death metal riffs that would make Deicide blush. The bass is, sadly, inaudible, something that I really don’t like in modern metal. That’s one of the only real criticisms I have of this album: the bass is absolutely inaudible throughout the vast majority of the album. Fotis Benardo’s drumming is, once again, superb, varied, and downright insane at times. Fotis uses a potent combination of double bass and blast beats to beat the listener into submission. Sections of songs such as the opening verse of “The Vampire of Nazareth” are akin to the “bass drums follow the guitar no matter how crazy the riff is” approach popularized by Fear Factory and Meshuggah.
The combination of all these fine musicians putting all their ideas together, mixing in symphony and melody, and using a production style that is audible while still retaining some organic feel to it, creates an epic listening experience for whoever pops in this album and sits in awe of what four guys from Greece have created. During the period before The Great Mass was released, I felt that it would certainly give Communion a run for its money. It has exceeded all my expectations and is without a doubt the best metal release of 2011 thus far, and quite possibly the best album ever made by Septic Flesh.