Septicflesh - Modern Primitive

Every metal genre has its staple bands; the ones that everyone recommends especially to newcomers. Thrash has its Slayer, black metal has Dark Funeral, metalcore has Killswitch Engage, etc. Even the subgenres have their favorites, but it is rare that when it comes to 2 genres a band comes up recommended. 

For symphonic metal or death metal, Septicflesh is usually a household name to bring to attention. These Greeks since 1992 have churned out a wonderous blend of ferocious death metal and beautifully orchestrated symphonics that have been illustrated through 11 studio albums and a few live albums, the most recent in 2020 with “Infernus Sinfonica” which included a live orchestra and garnered a ton of praise. Ever since 2008 with “Communion” these guys have indisputably earned their title as kings of the symphonic death metal world. Others have tried to follow along their lines such as the symphonic deathcore outfit Shadows of Intent, and not quite come close. 

So now after so long and with another album to boot, the question is does Septicflesh still have what it takes to keep their throne as the titans of their genre?

Yes and no.

Ever since “Communion” which was a monumental mark for the band as it showed them finding their sweet spot in a crushing, eastern, symphonic death metal storm that matched Spiros’ otherworldly growls alongside Sotiris’ guitarwork and hit or miss clean vocals, and backed by Christos’ haunting guitar riffs and orchestrations to match, Septicflesh have proven over and over that their ability to mix anthemic riffs with driving power and choruses along with beautiful arrangement and different types of choirs can create death metal that hardly bores. And yet, after this album, it felt like they were resting on their laurels a bit, upping their orchestra game but the death metal elements relatively stayed the same on “The Great Mass.” 

Albums like “Titan” and even with their last effort “Codex Omega” sounded like they followed the same formula- opening with lush orchestrations, delivering a few good hooking riffs with a bombast of thunderous drumming thanks to Kerim who had just joined in 2014, but a lot of the eastern sounds such as on the smash hit ‘Anubis’ were lost in favor of more orchestral crushers like ‘The Pyramid God.’. That track set a new standard for Septicflesh because it pushed them orchestrally, and with albums like “Codex Omega” they really pushed their orchestra for some fantastic tracks, and even gave out a few bonus tracks simply with just the orchestra. The opening tracks were always dramatic showstoppers for Septicflesh on every album and set the tone, but the rest of the album was hard to live up to it So, expectations for “Modern Primitive” were that listeners were going to get more of the same.

And it comes as a surprise. Rather than be greeted by lush orchestrations with ‘The Collector’ there is eastern guitar that slowly starts that brings back memories of “Communion” before the heavier riffs come in. The chugging riffs alongside the growls is beautiful, well driven Septicflesh with their unique guitar tone, and it just sounds like a fresh change with the arrangements. The symphonics are there, but like on albums such as “Communion” and “Revolution DNA,” they take a little bit of a back seat to let the death metal parts really sink in. And it feels more like a death metal album, which is a welcome sound for those who knew Septicflesh back in their older days from the 90s and early 2000s where they relied more on keyboards to drive the orchestra point home and let the guitars and vocals lead the charge. A ferocious opener indeed. Then comes “Hierophant” which is the game changer for them. The biggest thing about this track is Sotiris’ clean vocals. Ever since “Revolution DNA” with the more gothic overtones this guy has gotten more vocal time, and fans love or hate his voice. Here though, he really hits his stride and hits some fantastic tones that sound different, fresh, and add to this who new Septicflesh feel. The eastern sound is still there with the guitars, but it doesn’t quite come off as an ‘Anubis’ copy, but those who loved that track are sure to love this.

‘Self-eater’ is where we start to slide more into familiar Septicflesh territory from the last few albums. Sounding more like out of the “Titan” era, the child choirs are very prevalent and there is more crushing guitars and drums along with the vocals and just quiet, haunting orchestra moments which greatly contrasts the death metal elements. It is an amazing thing to hear and just as impactful 2 albums later. Then you get the eastern aesthetics again with the choirs, female chanting, the play off of Spiros and Sotiris and while the riffing is a bit repetitive, with ‘Neuromancer.’ It isn’t the most exciting track on the album but a good balance of what made albums like “Communion” so special. “Coming Storm” uses more female choir work, a faster, frantic pace, and a very foreboding intro of death metal and symphonics to sound very similar to the opening music from the movie Jaws. It has a very cinematic feel to it and brings back memories of the bombast and grandiosity of the likes of ‘Persepolis” or ‘The Pyramid God.’ Here Septicflesh really let their death metal elements out but use the orchestra and eastern elements to support it, adding in plenty of quiet moments to let the orchestra and choirs have their moment before letting Sotiris wails match the grunts from Spiros alongside the guitar and drums.

And then the album just seems to drop, losing its progressive momentum heard thus far. ‘A Desert Throne’ takes the tropes of the orchestra and death metal elements that made ‘Portrait of a Headless Man’ so appealing and speeds it up. It has a very anthemic chorus, but it lacks the excitement and mystery that the opening track had, and with a track title like this one would expect a lot more eastern elements like heard on ‘Hierophant.’ The title track sounds like almost a direct copy of ‘Sunlight Moonlight;’ still death metal riff heavy with some “Titan” sounding choirs and the clean vocals falling back to their usual sound. They mostly let the death metal vocals drive the music, which has always been Septicflesh’s way ever since their debut “Mystic Places of Dawn,” but they really seemed to have a turning point with the way they were doing Sotiris’ vocals on the earlier tracks. There is no disputing that Spiros has one of the more ferocious, more discernable death metal vocals, and this is supposed to be symphonic DEATH METAL, but Sotiris makes such an impact balance with his vocal work on a track like ‘Hierophant’ it is a shame he doesn’t showcase his talent more on the album beyond a few chorus lines. 

‘Psychohistory’ doesn’t even use any clean vocals, and while the nail driver riffs are thunderous and the track demands attention, it comes off as the weakest on the album because it sounds more like basic death metal and not the Septicflesh that fans have grown to love. This is more “Ophidian Wheel” sounding with a modern brush up in production. The closing “A Dreadful Muse” steps up the orchestral elements to balance out the death metal, and while it does keep listeners in a sense of suspense with its grandiose overtones, the sound despite its acoustic guitars, a dramatic guitar solo, just doesn’t measure up to the bombast or dramatics of a track like ‘Coming Storm.’ It closes the album better than other tracks on their previous albums have and still leaves an impression.

Yes, fans will probably find themselves a little disappointed with this album. It isn’t a disaster or as polarizing as “Revolution DNA,” but more of a take it or leave it kind of album. The start is certainly exciting and further boundary pushing, but after the first half of the album it sounds more like Septicflesh just ducked back into safer waters rather than pushing their limits more, whether it was showing off the clean vocal prowess or pushing their eastern tones to sound more like a lush version of Nile with not so much technicality. The child choirs are a welcome return since “Titan,” but the balance of death metal with symphonics feels very ‘already done’ for the past 3 albums, and it seemed just for a few tracks that Septicflesh had evolved again into something monstrously wonderful. But it was just a momentary phase. 

However, there is glimpse of promise in a lot of the tracks, so ‘Modern Primitive’ is not a complete loss. A bit shorter compared to other albums they’ve done, it is a return to the form yes, but not enough moving forward to demonstrate a huge jump in progression. For those who loved the “Communion” or “Titan” days, then this album will be a trip down memory lane, but for those who are looking for the next stage in evolution from the Revolution DNA Greeks, they may have to wait until the next album for any truly solid movement to demonstrate that Septicflesh is ready to take symphonic death metal to the next level. 

At least ‘Modern Primitive’ still demonstrates that Septicflesh still are the best at creating the best organic sounding orchestral arrangements, not quite Disney like Dimmu Borgir or as electronically mechanical as The Project Hate, but the band has been known to do so much more for death metal, symphonic metal, and gothic metal in the past that surely they can take some more risks and deliver something that will leave a mark on metal for another ten plus years.

3.5 / 5 STARS

1. The Collector
2. Hierophant
3. Self-eater
4. Neuromancer
5. Coming Storm
6. A Desert Throne
7. Modern Primitives
8. Psychohistory
9. A Dreadful Muse