Back in 2008, fresh after their reunion shows Septic Flesh shocked the metal world with the release of “Communion”. Nothing less that astonishing, the 4 piece death/goth/black metallers brought together the genre with a near perfect blend of a classical orchestra as well. “Communion” was, to me, the be all, end all album from Septic Flesh. It did see Septic Flesh move in a new direction, but boy was that direction amazing. The album was spooky, atmospheric, brutal and simply stunning. To be honesty, as much as I like Dimmu, this is what orchestra metal should sound like. Let’s back track a little for a brief rundown of the 20+ year Greek Metal Gods history before we talk about “The Great Mass.”
In 1990 Septic Flesh was born, by 1994 they released their first full length entitled “Mystic Places of Dawn.” From then until “Revolution DNA” in 1999 the band stuck to their roots, which were death metal, some black and gothic elements and hints of progressive. “Sumerian Daemons” in 2003 continued the subtle transformation, but was still strongly influenced straight up death/black metal. After this release the band split and all was missing in the Septic Flesh front. When the reunion was announced and “Communion” released the metal world was, like I said before, taken by storm. Not only from the resurgence of Septic Flesh, but because of the masterpiece they laid before us. Don’t get me wrong, their previous works are all excellent (1997’s “The Ophidian Wheel” is still sitting on my iPhone to this day), but “Communion” was something different, something special. So with the follow-up to such a great album, what can you even expect?
2011’s “The Great Mass” builds on this a hundred times over. I received this to listen to on Monday and I have listened to it about 20 times beginning to end with not one dull moment. What “Communion” started with the orchestra sound, “The Great Mass” has blown it out of the water.
“The Vampire From Nazareth” starts you off with a haunting start that lets you know exactly what you are getting yourself into for the entire “Great Mass”. This was also the single they released back in December. About 40 seconds into the soft vocal/orchestra beginning it hits you with ten hammers to the face with Spiros’ brutal voice. His screams are haunting, and the music is just as terrifying. When people talk about haunting and music to me, it never really gives me the same feel; I take it with a grain of salt. I challenge you to sit back, and listen to this as you sleep. It is just a haunting emotional journey. Something death metal has never and probably never will again do to me. And the opening track really shows this well.
The second track, perfectly named after the album “A Great Mass of Death” feels just like a great mass sitting on your shoulders. I get drained every listen. The drums from Fotis are punishing and perfection. The guitar work from Sotiris and Christos is simple but perfect with the sound of the song. The song has a lot of doom elements to it, hidden deep in the background of a death metal song. The transitions from brutal to beautiful are stunning. By the end of the week of listening I found myself conducting an orchestra in my office cube without realizing it. Everything about “A Great Mass of Death” just builds on your shoulders and doesn’t give in. Progressive elements are also found throughout the tune.
Although the transition is flawless, “Pyramid God” pulls the weight right off and has an upbeat introduction. Then the haunting screams begin; death growls with a slow yet catchy backdrop of music. The drums never miss a beat. This song, if any, is the one that I feel is “out of place.” Don’t get me wrong, the song is stellar, but it’s the only song on the album where I listen and hear elements of an Amon Amarth “Twilight” era sound. I can’t really explain it, and I am sure the diehard Septic Flesh fans will banish this review to the toilet but that’s what I hear. “Pyramid God” is the only song on the album that lifts the weight off your shoulders.
“Five-Pointed Star” brings the heavy weight right back, with almost an industrial/theme from Inception sounding back drop. The songs from this point on take a different approach with each minute yet fit the album perfect. In “Oceans of Grey” they manage to make a soft clean vocal female singer sound heavy, it’s in the middle of a brutally symphonic song and her voice doesn’t miss a haunting beat. “The Undead Keep Dreaming” shows off the tight work of Fotis throughout as long slow parts encompass a brutally heavy drum section. “Therianthropy” really does an excellent job bringing this album to a close. Starting soft, prog-rockish it kicks you right in the balls about 30 seconds in with pounding drums and great guitar work.
I do need to at least mention the amazing work of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, who was the orchestra used on “The Great Mass.” Although I am sure the work they do day in and day out is probably far more difficult, the progression and seamlessness in which they merged was great. They added an element to this release that made “The Great Mass” what is, and I am glad I don’t have to review it without.
Clocking in just less than 44 minutes this album does not have 1 second of awkward, bad or any negative moment. As I reviewed this I found it even hard to jump around, feeling I would miss the lead-ins or ending to the harmonies. I think one of the amazing parts about this album is the simplicity of its entirety yet the overall effect it leaves on you. All instrumentation is put together with extreme precision, but you have an album of this magnitude with very few (no standout) solos or anything extremely complex sounding (guitars, bass, drums) yet it’s sheer perfection. Everything is perfect, nothing is off, nothing is missing; I could care less that I didn’t hear a 30 second killer solo.
The effect this album has left on me is astonishing. It completes you full circle like nothing else I have heard. Although I have been listening for only a week, this is my clear number one of the year (I would love to see something come close) and possibly my favorite album in the last few years. Without a doubt Septic Flesh has set the bar for bands trying to do the same (Dimmu Borgir etc) and I can’t wait to see what comes of them down the line. Hearing this album live will be an experience and I won’t miss it for the world if I get the opportunity.
1. The Vampire From Nazareth (4:08)
2. A Great Mass of Death (4:46)
3. Pyramid God (5:13)
4. Five-Pointed Star (4:33)
5. Oceans of Grey (5:11)
6. The Undead Keep Dreaming (4:29)
7. Rising (3:16)
8. Apocalypse (3:55)
9. Mad Architect (3:36)
10. Therianthropy (4:28)