Friday, August 12, 2011

Septic Flesh - Sumerian Daemons (2003)

A symphonic death metal dream come true? An ailing, once exotic artist's much needed return to form? Sumerian Daemons is both of these things and more, as Greeks Septic Flesh return to the values that amplified the resonance of classics like Mystic Places of Dawn and Ophidian Wheel. After taking a turn for the worse with their Gothic and industrial-imbued Revolution DNA, Sotiris Vagenas and the Antoniou brothers decided to take a 180 from that Hop Topic friendly terrain to what they do best: crushing, atmospheric death metal endowed with heavy use of operatic vocal arrangements and a distinctly Gothic/doom tinge. Yet, for all that, Sumerian Daemons does not abandon the band's incessant desire for progression, nor does it lack the 'modernist' aesthetic that its predecessor was mildly (and unsuccessfully) hinting at.

This is easily one of the better produced works of Septic Flesh, with a ton happening below the surface, and all of it captured in the amber of studio gloss without overwhelming the listener. The band return to using the operatic vocals of Natalie Rassoulis, but she has never sounded better on any of their works. FINALLY, they have mixed her appropriately against the music, and even though I might like the songs on Ophidian Wheel a fraction more than these, she certainly is nowhere near as overbearing. There are outright, sweeping dark classical segments here like "Behold...the Land of Promise", "Magic Loves Infinity" and the intro to "Faust", but what's more, they have incorporated her straight into some of the crushing, aggressive death metal tracks as just another layer of their sweltering atmospherics. You still have a nice array of guitar effects, with some of the dreary, doom laden chorus mixed into the more forceful mutes and blasts. Did I mention blasts? Yes, there is a higher per capita of blasting here than any prior release from the band, but to be truthful, these were some of my least favorite parts of the record. Good to have the variation in there, but the accompanying riffs were often slightly 'meh'.

So, it's the most 'brutal' of all Septic Flesh albums, but what's more important is that they have paced this so well, with obvious peaks and valleys of archaic emotion and modern finesse. Those who were heavily into the Gothic/death accessibility of A Fallen Temple will undoubtedly like the sailing, depressive "Infernal Sun", while those seeking the industrial ingredients of the previous album will fall over "Mechanical Babylon", which is somehow less lame than almost all of Revolution DNA combined, even if it's just stock industrial metal. Other experimental tracks exist here, highly curious and atmospheric, like "Red Code Cult" and "When All is None" which are both pretty tight. But then, if you just want your shit bowled over, you've got "Unbeliever" or "Sumerian Daemons" itself. The electronics, death metal growls, symphonic ingredients and other elements are all seamlessly combined into this hostile, brilliant structure that often takes a step back or so to truly appreciate.

Ultimately, it's another damn amazing notch in the band's crown, successful in combining the band's Chaostar compositional style into the potent ballast of 90s Septic Flesh. There are a few tunes I like slightly less than others, and a number of guitar lines that, if extracted from the writhing, cybersymphonic mass, don't hold up by themselves. That said, there are so many little distractions in these songs that one is unlikely to pay close attention to the riffs alone, and the Greeks had returned with a vengeance here that I doubt anyone was expecting. Also, though I don't think this new logo has the same appeal as their classy originals (1991-98), it's at least a step up over the lazy 'not a logo' on Revolution DNA. Sumerian Daemons is not my favorite record by the band, since the songs lack some of the distinction found elsewhere, but it's a positive re-affirmation of one of the strongest Hellenic extreme metal entities, and surrounds you with antiquarian imagery, occult egotism, the circuitry of destruction and damnation.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (the gates are now aligned)

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