October 9, 2014 Septicflesh – Titan (Album Review)
It must be something in the water in Greece. Perhaps being the ancient seat of learning and enlightenment for the entirety of Western civilization has echoed down the ages, but whatever it is, Greek metal bands are their own enigmatic beasts. Take the career path of Athens-based dark metal warriors Septicflesh. They’ve been around for 24 years, unless you count a brief hiatus between 2003 and 2007. A discography that began with serpentine, sample-laden death metal turned into the goth-tinged, industrial-edged material they straddled the millennium with, before settling on a sort of hybridization of the two styles with 2003’s Sumerian Daemons. After their hiatus, founders Christos Antoniou (guitar/harsh vocals), Spiros Antoniou (bass guitar/harsh vocals) and Sotiris Vayenas (guitar/clean vocals/keys) returned with orchestral aspirations, using soprano female singers, a host of classical musicians, and a very cinematic approach to their songwriting. The result was a successful return to form with 2008’s Communion and 2011’s A Great Mass of Death. Three years later, Septicflesh has returned to tickle our tympanums with Titan, another massive production looking to eclipse the grandeur of releases past.
The orchestral themes are still present on Titan, though not quite as up-front in the mix. On opener “War In Heaven,” a harsh vocal approach and blast beats interweave with dreamy violins and somber woodwinds to immerse our senses in the dark fairy tale world the Greeks are so adept at creating. “Burn” vocally is reminiscent of some of the more goth leanings the band used to display, but musically it is one of the more blasting affairs on the record. There is a horror element to Septicflesh’s sound that bands like Moonspell and Cradle of Filth have incorporated over the years. Think candelabras and chilly autumn nights, with haunted atmospheres and the telling of eldritch tales. But just when you think you have these three and a half minutes figured out, Septicflesh hit you with a melodious classical interlude, all violins, keys, and melancholy. Don’t fall asleep on them, because these Greeks are full of tricks and a certain magic that is absent from most metal bands in any era.
“Order of Dracul” is an example of Septicflesh making more of a straight up metal song. The orchestral flourishes are still there, albeit as support and not as lead. “Prototype” opens up more of that industrial cadence, pulling us from the dusky castles of old into realms of futuristic fantasy. All the time the harsh vocals mix with the orchestra – two disparate sounds that nevertheless blend wonderfully together. The interplay carries on like this, as the listener next becomes riveted during the masterful “Prometheus,” which combines operatic backing vocals with Wagnerian pomp into a challenging whole, setting a mood of haunting melody in the process. Superior, soundtrack-quality music that will never get the attention it truly deserves. Sure, the album will do well in the underground, and should garner Septicflesh heaps of critical praise. But this is exactly the kind of album you’ll want to play for one of those people who think metal bands have no talent, or just make noise. Septicflesh are composers as well as headbangers, and the album highlight of “Prometheus” drives this home perfectly.
The rest of the songs on Titan are as diverse and adventurous as anyone could want, as the band has truly mastered the balance between the metal and the orchestration. Bombastic yet restrained when it needs to be, the results are quite stunning. Very few bands along the endless sonic tapestry of heavy metal are doing this kind of thing, and those few who are will have a ton of difficulty matching the skill and aplomb brought to bear by Septicflesh. If there was one negative it could perhaps be in the production of the guitar sound. A small gripe, but the tone is just a little too clinical and overproduced for the organic quality in the orchestral parts. This might just be because Septicflesh enjoys sounding ultra-modern despite the classical overtones in their music. Guitar tone notwithstanding, Titan is brimming with jaw-dropping atmosphere and exquisite song structures, with enough meat on its bones to please fans and earn them new legions of supporters going forward. For those who cannot get enough, the bonus version of the album features orchestral versions of some of the songs. CrypticRock gives this album 4.5 out of 5 stars.