Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Septicflesh - Titan [2014]

It would be a mistake (and a grave one) to underestimate the sheer infallibility of Septicflesh's course after ''Sumerian Daemons'', moving hungrily from record to record, each with an even more attractive incorporation of classical music and a more focused dive into memorability. What came to being after the band reunited was ''Communion'' which was a further improvement upon ''Sumerian Daemons'', but what followed, ''The Great Mass'' surpassed all prior constructions and upped the ante to such an irredeemable level that it not only crowned itself my favorite record of 2011, but also a milestone for death and symphonic metal in general. With that hanging about their belt the Greeks no doubt suffered from some pressure (not unlike the latest efforts by Vader). How the hell do you surpass something like ''The Great Mass''? A timeless bondage of symphony and proto-brutal death metal, a stereophonic triumph. Maybe the simple answer is that you don't. And that's when ''Titan'' enter the show...

As callous as that statement may seem, it's not, so hang on to your seats for a few minutes and hear me out. As much as the other aspects of ''Titan'' failed to resonate with me as its predecessor, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the album's incorporation of classical music elements has reached a far more expansive degree, channeled forth by the compositions of the masterful composer Christos Antoniou, whose expertise in composition sometimes exceeds his vocal transmissions, reaching towards anything from Carl Orff in stylistic excellence to Wagner and anything in between. There's also a very oriental taste to what he does, an element that seethes through his guitar work as much as his classical scriptures. The components of these classical feats are of course complements of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, which the band has worked with ever since ''Communion''.

That said, the other components do not shine through particularly much. As much as I enjoyed stunners on this album like ''Prototype'' or ''Order of Dracul'', I couldn't help but feel that Septicflesh played it safer than they ought to here, sticking to the principle material adherent on the last three records; a brusque stop in the originality department seemed especially daunting considering the Greeks the brazen jump forward with the last disc. First of all, the guitars sound watered down and truncated to the complexity of an early 90's garden-variety brutal death album, smoldered under the undermining current and overdose of classical music.  Surgical as they are, they're not the powerhouses of chug and pummel that you'd want them to be. See, many of the broiling, tempestuous tremolos that led the front on line on the previous albums with such tracks as ''Pyramid God'' or ''Lovecraft's Death'' are not present here, and their strength and bass-soaked masculinity exchanged with accentuated upsurges of violins, trumpets ad cellos; again, not necessarily a major deviation from ''The Great Mass'', but still a step backwards considering the 3 years in between records. To some point I may be biased: I'm a bigger classical music fan than I confide to be, so no matter how egregious the guitar work I will enjoy the orchestral accompaniment of a violins and soaring, boisterous trumpets. But this does not compensate for the entire quality of the record. Septicflesh is still far from its zenith.

Other additions that were prevalent on the previous record that made it here are the high, majestic, operatic vocals which divide into both male and female, a beautiful contrast, and the sublime preference of melodic death metal guitars which is perhaps the only consolation for the failed vigor of the guitars. What I'm talking about is the band's subtle connection to bands like Dark Tranquility or At the Gates, which helps bring some variation in between riffs. The exuberant choirs are at their prime as you're likely to hear a child choir as much as mature one here. Needless to say they're quite elegiac and wonderfully complement the somber undertone of the music. The vocals, still quite a uniquely gruesome inflection in today's crowded death metal market, will occasionally accompany the cleaner, operatic vocal deliveries during climaxes, in addition to the usual bantering growls. Not really a fan of vocal duality at that point, particularly because it's technique reminiscent of modern metal mavericks, but in all departments it would suffice to say that Septicflesh excludes the prevalence of anything bordering on the excessively florid or grandiloquent. Overall, some of the queer, whizzy guitar techniques and clean guitar interludes seem to have bred and multiplied to a greater extent than those of the last two albums combined, indicating that perhaps the Greeks needed something to keep the listener at bay during the more emotive and moving sequences of the records. On the other hand, there are one or two completely fresh additions to the music such as the bizarrely enchanting medieval lute bridge fitted near the middle of ''Order of Dracul'', so it's not all bare bones and meat.

Overall, intellectual dipshits and steamy critics would probably hail the record as uninteresting, incompetent, or, at best, one that failed to live up to the expectations. True that it didn't rock as hard as the new Vader record, or that it boasted a triumph for the Septicflesh discography in general, mainly because (like so many albums) it kept its hand and feet inside the safe zone and cut down on the real juiciness of death metal, but hey, I still liked it. With such anomalies lurking in the late 90's section of their catalog, it's certainly not bound to be the anathema of the band, a hate stock for the masses to throw bottles of piss at. It's actually good. It's consistent, and more varied than you'd expect. Who knows, maybe the Greeks were trying to raise the volume of the classical instruments to the extent that it would blot out any hearing and comprehension of the other instruments. Or maybe that were just experimenting a plain shift into classical music? But back to reality, ''Titan'' is damnably decent, yet still not something I would prefer to recur in the future. Now that would be egregious indeed.

Order of Dracul

Rating: 77%

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