For weeks now, I’ve been trying to listen to the new Septicflesh album “The Great Mass,” and for some reason, I just couldn’t make it through. Not even once.
I kept trying to go back where I left off, then I tried to do the whole thing at once again, and no matter what way I went about this thing, I couldn’t listen to it. That was odd to me because I really liked their 2008 reunion album “Communion” (as well as some of their early work) and was kind of disappointed I had to miss their stop in Pittsburgh a few years ago. So this was one I was kind of looking forward to hearing, yet the Greek orchestral black metal band didn’t seem to be holding my interest. Finally, I made myself sit down, removed all distraction, and forced myself to listen to “The Great Mass” from front to back. That was how I realized why I couldn’t get a hold of this thing: It kinda sucks.
If you’re not familiar with the band, let me give you a quick, rudimentary history. The band formed in 1990, and a year later, they released their debut EP “Temple of the Lost Race.” Their first full-length “Mystic Places of Dawn” arrived in 1994 (later repackaged with “Temple”), and they put out five more discs before their breakup in 2003, their final being “Sumerian Daemons.” They announced their reformation in 2007, and while they always had symphonic/gothic elements in their music, they heavily amplified that on “Communion,” recording with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Prague.
The Prague players returned for “The Great Mass,” and it should be pointed out that Septicflesh guitarist Christos Antoniou has studied classical and concert composition, so he’s no slouch. But simply being well educated doesn’t make you infallible, and the band just goes off the rails on “The Great Mass.” It’s a mess, the songs aren’t terribly compelling, and at times the material is laughable (“Apocalypse” starts off sounding like music from a children’s Christmas pageant; “Mad Architect” could not have a better name as it sounds like that’s who constructed this wacky piece). I don’t doubt the Philharmonic players hold their own – I’m not exactly the best judge of orchestral music, admittedly – but it’s like a head-on collision of blackened death metal and the “Fantasia” soundtrack. Dimmu Borgir often is guilty of this as well, but typically they remember to include a solid song structure and a memorable hook.
Bassist Seth Siro Anton’s growling vocals are the highlight. Many bands such as Dimmu and Cradle of Filth who dabble in this stuff often don’t have vocals you can take very seriously. As much as I like some of Dimmu’s and Cradle’s stuff, I often find myself chuckling at the overly dramatic, goofy vocals, but I never do that with Anton. So that’s a positive. But it doesn’t help this album transcend beyond silliness. I’m not even sure I totally grasp what’s going on thematically, and the band’s explanation sure hasn’t helped. Even their explanation of the album’s exansive artwork is befuddling. Try this on:
“It is a small part of an occult machine made from marble and flesh, fantasy and reality, order and chaos. A great machine composed from the blasphemous union of strange figures, creations of Man, the creator of the gods and demons. Their grotesque purpose will be revealed soon, when all the cover editions of the new album will be presented and will be combined together… Let the great self-cannibalistic symposium begin.”
I don’t have any idea what that means, and considering it’s taken me so long to make it through this entire thing one time, I don’t even care. They lost me completely on this one. Opener “Vampire From Nazareth” probably doesn’t need (or deserve) much introspection, and even when they begin a chant that sounds like some sort of conjuration, it doesn’t chill at all. “Pyramid God” is just bizarre and eventually works itself into a jazzy sort of chugging breakdown that feels like it might want to be a pop song; “Five-Pointed Star” and “Oceans of Grey” use some sort of Middle Eastern-flavored woodwinds that feel a bit clichéd; and closer “Therianthropy” begins with terribly nasally gothic vocals, and the track doesn’t really improve from there.
I can’t say anything positive about one song on this album. Not one. I guess I admire the band’s ambition, Maybe it’s overindulgence, actually. It’s a total miss of an album, and this does no justice to “Communion” as its follow-up. It’s never a good sign when you outright laugh during a record one time, much less a bunch of times. I listen to some ridiculous shit, and there times when I can smirk at something silly that I actually like. But this reminds me of when I, as a critic, had to see the “Poseidon Adventure” remake, and when the cruise ship was being smashed to bits and people were dying horribly, I was guffawing out loud. I’m sure that wasn’t the intended reaction Septicflesh hoped their listeners would have, so I’d assume they wouldn’t be thrilled someone responded in that way. Even a cynical critic who laughs heartily when he sees people on the big screen drown on a boat.