It is very rare that a band can seamlessly put together several genres while whittling out all bad parts so only the good ones shine. Septic Flesh, a death metal band from Greece, has had a long hard road since their first release in 1994 to perfect their sound. With their first album, Mystic Places of Dawn, the sound was harsh and gritty but still pretty magnificent for the time, considering the depth of the songs.
Then they went to a more experimental phase several albums later with Revolution DNA in 1999, incorporating more industrial based sounds with samples from movies, keyboards, and cleaner, more comprehensible vocals. Now, with Communion, their 2008 seventh studio album, one can finally say that they've reached the pinnacle of their sound, balancing the beauty with the beast.
What Septic Flesh does so miraculously on this album in particular is taken the orchestral implements that they've dabbled with on their previous works and given it full fledged life. The choir harmonies, cellos, trumpets, and horns are a wonderful addition among the thumping guitars and pounding drums, creating a marching battle symphony. The track "Persepolis" holds a wonderful example of this as at two different points in the middle of the song everything quiets down and a very creepy choir hum comes in, setting a perfect atmosphere before the drums kick in.
The production is spotless; everything can be heard crystal clear. Unlike other death metal bands, Septic Flesh doesn't try to take everything on at full force by filling up the album with shredding solos or just chugging out long, rapid chords behind blast beat drumming. Instead, the music is well paced, almost slow at times, taking the moniker of the doom metal genre at different points, such as throughout the track "Anubis" where the guitar has a dragging bite to it as trudges along with the orchestra. There are some fast tracks as well, such as the title track and "We the Gods" where the guitars and drums take a very nice, rapid pace.
The vocals are also one of the main highlights of the albums. The harsher vocals are almost ninety percent intelligible, meaning you can actually understand them while being terrified. They hold a very astounding presence in the music as the growls echo and roar throughout the album; it would be very hard to make a comparison to any other death metal vocalist because the quality of the vocals on Communion is so good without sounding worn down or scratchy. This is partially due to the great production of the sound itself. The clean vocals are there too; they take on a more higher, nasal pitch but are a nice addition as well. There is a lot more use of the growls than clean vocals, but this is death metal, not melodic metal, so that is expected.
Lyrically, the album focuses on Sumerian lore, ranging from Anubis, who prepares the dead for the afterlife, Babel, the famed tower in which all its creators were cursed, and Persepolis, which seems to take a strange allusion to the story of Sodom since both cities were torched to the ground. The lyrics are very intriguing and almost each tells a story, although they still hold some repetition in the verse/chorus/verse sense. One could even consider Septic Flesh, with the achievement of Communion, akin to Nile, another Sumerian themed death metal group known for its epic use of orchestrations and other middle eastern instrumentations.
One may even prefer Communion to Nile's albums because it is easier to understand vocally and allows the listener to breathe in between sections of the music; generally Nile's work is faster and harsher. (This is, of course, no disrespect to Nile at all, for they produce some pretty wonderful music as well.)
Does Communion make Septic Flesh the greatest band of all time? No. But what it does do is give the band a solid place in the spotlight as being one of the unique sounds that use death metal and orchestra together with tinges of Sumerian influence. No doubt it is outstanding, and hopefully the next album will be just as good, if not better. Longer songs would be a major plus, and perhaps they will bring back the use of female vocalizations.