The Metal Examiner: Septicflesh’s The Great Mass

Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.

Septicflesh: The Great MassSepticflesh: The Great Mass (Season of Mist, 4/18/11)

Septicflesh: “The Vampire from Nazareth”

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Metal bands have long employed classical composition techniques. Celtic Frost introduced To Mega Therion in 1985 with a Strauss-ian melody played by a French horn. Morbid Angel cited Mozart as the greatest composer of all time on its sophomore album. Ritchie Blackmore laced his leads for proto-metal band Deep Purple with classical arpeggios.

Continuing in this tradition, Septicflesh‘s guitarist Christos Antoniou recently completed studies in classical composition. As such, the band’s seventh full-length, The Great Mass, is rich in orchestration, handled by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Septicflesh was part of the original wave of Greek black-metal bands, along with Rotting Christ and Varathron. These bands emerged in the extreme-metal scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, playing a particularly slow and melodic style that borrowed equally from the atmospheric melody of Norwegian bands like Burzum and doom pioneers like Candlemass. The Greek sound was tied together with a thick ugliness seemingly taken from Celtic Frost’s “Procreation (of the Wicked).”

After strong initial efforts in the early 1990s, Septicflesh detoured into rock-song structures and pseudo-Gothic flavor. The band disbanded in 2003, after releasing the far more death-metal, nearly Nile-esque Sumerian Demons. Since reuniting in 2007, Septicflesh has continued with the highly orchestrated, death-metal sound that it found on Demons.

Though The Great Mass is occasionally melodramatic, it avoids the histrionic compositions of Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth. The orchestra provides harmonic density and chromatic flourishes, but much of the main melody is carried by guitars. Some songs are dark and harrowing, like Mussorgsky‘s “Night on Bald Mountain,” and others are epic and romantic, like Type O Negative.

The Great Mass is a case of more actually being more. Even if orchestration weren’t present, many of the accents and crescendos would be implied by the structure of the songs themselves. Septicflesh uses this tension to create and thwart melodic expectations. And though its new style of epic, orchestrated death metal does not quite have the spiritual pull of its more youthful material, the band has found a voice in this aggressive, bombastic style.

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