Season of Mist/Rocket Distribution
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Further refinement of an already strong sound
As a genre, symphonic death metal is somewhat fledgeling, if not almost an aberration. While black metal has made use of orchestral elements for decades now, steps into symphonic territory by its death metal cousin have been less pronounced and far less common in my experience - at least at an album level anyway.
In spite of this, 2011 saw the release of two such albums whose approaches were vastly different - Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Agony and Septicflesh’s The Great Mass. The former was an intense stab at blending furious death metal with orchestral accompaniment into a sort of Baroque-esque whirlwind while the latter was arguably a more refined and nuanced affair - preferring instead to focus on putting the orchestra into orchestral, and not just because they engaged the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as opposed to sequencing these elements. While the illusion was broken once in a while, it was definitely possible to suspend disbelief and pretend that The Great Mass was some kind of loose, semi-bastardised operatic movement as opposed to a bunch of death metal songs that also happened to be played in front of an orchestra.
So while I would view both Fleshgod Apocalypse and Septicflesh as the two biggest bands occupying this otherwise small sub-genre, they have both taken very different paths to achieving their visions. If we also view them as competitors in some sort of string and horn-based arms race then Fleshgod Apocalypse’s loud, incredibly technical, and highly overwrought 2013 album, Labyrinth, could be viewed as a full on nuclear salvo while Septicflesh’s latest, Titan, can be seen as a more measured and methodically executed drone strike.
Kicking things off with “War in Heaven”, Septicflesh immediately signal that Titan is going to closely follow the approach taken on The Great Mass but is going to do so through a better, clearer production and with a slightly more sombre atmosphere than was present on its predecessor. In fact, if there’s one thing above all others that is truly spectacular about Titan, it would be the way it feels. The band has constructed an album that captures all of the positive attributes of being “epic” without falling afoul of the negatives. Furthermore, thematically, the band’s Greek heritage shines through for me in much the same way it does from Rotting Christ. Now, I don’t profess to know much about traditional Greek musical traits, and maybe what I’m classifying as being Greek isn’t that at all, but there’s something mysterious and altogether unusual (to me) about the compositions on offer here; much like there was on The Great Mass. It’s a quality that runs through Septicflesh’s music and is definitely one of the band’s greatest assets.
If there’s a complaint to be had with Titan, it would be that when it hits it hits hard, and when it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t. Tracks like “Prototype” and “Prometheus” with their epic, sweeping melodies are complemented by equally powerful, more straight-up death metal numbers like the titular cut, “Confessions of a Serial Killer”, and “Ground Zero”. In between them, however, are other tracks that, while not bad in their own right, don’t quite live up to the lofty heights that are scaled by the standout tracks. This is primarily a result of Titan largely being cut from the same cloth as The Great Mass rather than the songs themselves actually lacking in quality, however. Had you not heard The Great Mass, these complaints would be ineffectual if not completely moot.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that you aren’t going to be too surprised by what you hear on Titan if you’re familiar with The Great Mass. This isn’t to take anything away from Titan because it has been put together impeccably and, to be fair, it is actually probably a superior album to its predecessor. It’s just that, as good as it is musically and as well as it has been constructed, you can’t help but feel that it’s also quite a safe album from Septicflesh, too. It’s an album more interested in refining an established sound than it is in forging a new one. This isn’t a problem in and of itself - at least at this stage - but it is definitely a game of diminishing returns the longer it is played.