Review Summary: If you’re at all familiar with and a fan of Communion, then you will be pleased to know The Great Mass is no different...
Death metal giants Septicflesh (originally Septic Flesh) from Athens, Greece, have been dishing out their sound since the early 90′s with a discography consisting of 7 full-length albums, as well as a few EPs. After splitting up in 2003 with members moving on to other projects, they eventually reunited in February of 2007 for Greece’s Metal Healing Festival, and was later reported that they had plans to record a new album. And with that came their seventh full-length, Communion, which featured a full orchestra and a choir, totalling 80 musicians and 32 singers, which overall, breathed new life into this already well-established death metal band. Now with their upcoming full-length album, The Great Mass, Septicflesh are looking to continuing in that direction…
Once again featuring an orchestra and a choir, this time enlisting in the services of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, The Great Mass is a well crafted death/symphonic metal album, that offers plenty of atmosphere to immerse the listener in and keep them hooked from beginning to end. Unlike other symphonic death metal bands, Septicflesh incorporate the use of orchestrated sounds and samples to not only add to their already powerful sound, but to flesh it out even more (whereas other bands merely use it as filler material without any purpose behind it). Even better, Septicflesh accomplish this without overdoing or relying on it as the main focal point. It’s merely another entity that works with the band, never once taking precedent over the core sound.
To best describe the music on this album, take the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (who often sound similar to the Philip Glass Ensemble), place them inside the Temple of Doom, and imagine them orchestrating music for Mola Ram while he does his infamous heart rip out of the chest/human sacrifice thing, and that’s the kind of sound you’ll get. The album opens with “The Vampire From Nazareth” and right from the start you get a feeling of how Septicflesh create an almost cinematic feel to their songs. A eerie choir gently fades in and begins to tempt your eardrums, strings and horns join the fray and once the sound of drums come in, you know all to well it’s about to get serious from this point on. They all come together to create a suspenseful build up, and once the vocals of Spiros come in, all the heaviness, speed, and overall harsh extremity that death metal provides, is in full effect. And combined with the full orchestra and keyboard arrangements, Septicflesh manage to give the music a sinister atmosphere while staying true to their devastating sound.
Septicflesh are not doing anything necessarily new or groundbreaking, but they are giving symphonic death metal some credibility and listenability. Stand out tracks include the epic “A Great Mass Of Death”, which features some beautiful female vocal work alongside the clean vocals of Sotiris Vayenas (which I find to be very unique and well suited for the music). “Pyramid God” makes terrific use of the orchestra by really incorporating heavy use of the stringed instruments. The first half of the song showcases a simple flow between the riffs and the orchestra, which gives off such a powerful ambience, while the latter half of the song dishes out a massive pounding of drums and rung out chords, all culminating into double-bass and rampant blasting of horns. Easily one of the best on the album.
Another thing I find interesting about this album, as I did with Communion, is that the guitars do not sound overly complex on these albums. However, they are very audible and provide some parts in songs that would make any metal fan want to headbang along. Take “Oceans Of Grey” for example, besides being one of the more emotional on the album, it offers such a simple but well executed riff and drum combo (43 to 54 minute mark) that should instantly get your head moving back and forth. Now the track that is quickly becoming my favorite, “Mad Architect”, shows the band taking full use of the orchestras talent and having fun with it. The outcome is a fast, rocking tune with the orchestra getting all whimsical with their arrangement. It’s easily the catchiest on the album, and while still being as brutal as the other songs on the album, it stands out because of how zany it is.
Production wise, with the accompaniment of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on the album, you can almost expect it to be perfect, and luckily for Septicflesh, it is. The beauty of this album is that it has a rawness to it, yet still provides a sharp and defined sound. Overall, The Great Mass is a supremely in-depth and rich experience, with every instrument being clearly heard, and as previously mentioned, the orchestra/choir never outshines the band. It’s also nice to hear Spiros vocals this time around, as they slightly hover over the rest of the music. With Communion they kind of took a back seat and got overshadowed by everything else.
While I feel it’s not as memorable as Communion, it’s still a devastating and emotional album, that’s coupled with excellent musicianship from both the band and the orchestra. I’m very pleased to see them continuing in this direction with their sound and would highly recommend this album to anyone who is a fan of their previous work, especially Communion and/or other atmospheric/symphonic bands.