OK, I thought I knew Septic Flesh, as they were before 2008 with a space in their name, but it's very possible that I've confused them with someone else. No, not Septic Death, as I have them clear for sure. However, I was thoroughly surprised by the sound of this album, though, and more so than I'd have been had I actually heard some of their earlier material before. Going back to cherrypick the early stuff, I see that they've always played symphonic death metal but they've continued to boost the symphonic part of that as time has gone by, eventually sharing the stage in Mexico City in 2019 with an orchestra and a couple of choirs in a memorable concert I've been enjoying on YouTube.
By this point, which is their eleventh album, that symphonic angle has been so integrated into the band's sound that it's inseparable. This isn't strings behind a rock band any more, this is one band with a hundred members. I'd say that the best example of this is Coming Storm, but everything on the album is a good example and Coming Storm is just the track that plays with the dynamics best. And, I should point out, going full on symphonic beyond most symphonic bands is far from the end of their evolution.
For a start, there's a lot of ethnic sound on this album, starting at the very beginning with a neat and intricate intro to The Collector, which is not played on acoustic guitars. In addition to the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Libro Coro choirs and a long list of choral vocalists, I'm seeing credits for folk instruments like mandolin, flute, oud and bouzouki, each of which I'm aware of, but duduk and santur too, which I'm not; they're a wind instrument and a hammered dulcimer respectively. There's also a female vocalist who sings in a wavering ethnic style on songs like Self-Eater. Each of these folk contributions deepens the band's sound and they're often the best, most joyous part, like on Neuromancer.
For another, while the majority of vocals are still the effortlessly harsh vocals of bassist Seth Siro Anton, who sounds like he's not even putting on a demonic voice but just using the one that comes most naturally, the way they're balanced with the clean vocals of guitarist Sotiris Anunnaki V are a fascinating thing. Sometimes, it's the usual contrast between harsh and clean, which is purely for effect and the sort of thing we tend to expect in bands with that dynamic. However, here it's often something far more theatrical and the orchestration and some of the other musical changes on a dime play into that.
When listening through the speakers on my desk, I sometimes got the impression that there were things happening that I missed because I couldn't see them. Surely, this is music that's intended to be seen as much as heard, a true metal opera, and I wasn't sitting in front of a stage watching the actors play their parts. When listening through headphones, though this feeling was enhanced to become sometimes overwhelming. I wanted to know what these people were doing visually, what stories they were telling with their bodies as well as their voices.
While Coming Storm stood out for me above the other tracks, none of them let the side down. This is a solid album and one I enjoyed a great deal over a few listens. If there's a catch, it's that there are also bonus tracks on this limited edition and, well, I kind of dig those more. These are entirely orchestral pieces, i.e. they keep all of that side but ditch the band, and I'm pretty sure that they'll want me to think of them as worthy bonuses. Instead, I'm digging Salvation and The 14th Part a bit more than I'm digging the rest of the album, Coming Storm excluded.
However, the third of these bonus tracks is Coming Storm, done entirely with orchestra, and I think that I prefer the proper version more. So, perhaps the question should be phrased like this: where are the heavy versions of Salvation and The 14th Part, the ones with a band and vocals and all that jazz? Answers on the back of a postcard please...