As weird as the “atmospheric/symphonic death metal” moniker might be, the genre constantly graces us with top-tier acts that can kick a*s and sound sophisticated at the same time, like Fleshgod Apocalypse, Ex Deo, Horrified, and, of course, our case in point here, Septicflesh. Since their comeback with ‘Communion’ (2008) the Greek masters of the dark symphony have fine-tuned their sound and achieved a more personal way of approaching death metal, which many would argue peaked in their last album, the great ‘Codex Omega’ (2017). Five years later, we now have ‘Modern Primitive’ in our hands with the mission to keep things on par with the grandiosity achieved by the band.
In terms of musicality, with each full-length released it becomes quite clear that Septicflesh see no reason whatsoever to come back to a classic death-driven record such as ‘Mystic Places of Dawn’ (1994); instead – as I wrote above – the plan seems to keep tweaking epicness and classical symphonies to a more melodic take on the extreme metal, to which I wouldn’t call death metal anymore.
The urge to be titanic, glorious, and cataclysmic is allied with intensity and somberness in this output, probably more so than ever by the Greeks. Songs like “Neuromancer” and “Psychohistory” make good use of this and offer pompous moments full of orchestral elements and a good amount of brutality. Brutality, however, is definitely something that can be handpicked in this album, as there is a shortage of visceral, raw-power moments once common in Septicflesh albums; rather, angriness gives way to theatrics and melody, affecting even Spiros Antoniou’s way of singing.
Of course, we still see the harsh vocalization characteristic of the leader and bass player, but I feel like in ‘Modern Primitive’ he sings a little bit softer and cleaner when compared to the past, even if we consider the last record as a parameter, where he would absolutely destroy everything in his path constantly, clearly seen right from the start with “Dante’s Inferno”. Be it a label request or musician’s choice, it definitely takes its toll on the tracklist and causes less impact on the listener. Much like the vocals used on the band’s recent releases, his growls are controlled, hostile, and cold, but not quite deadly or menacing as they used to be. Sotiris Vayenas, on the other hand, makes use of a feast of vocal styles from the operatics and “beauty and the beast” schools which provide once again a good heterogeneous nature to this element.
Instrumentally speaking the album is a grower, with maybe half of it reaching the level of greatness and the rest falling just short. The repetition of some elements makes it a little bit tiresome, but the addition of oddities like ghostly passages like in “Coming Storm” and the violin contrast present throughout most of the endeavor work around these repetitions and do their job pretty well in turning this album into a beast. At the end of the day, the orchestrations play a very important role in conjuring a powerful atmosphere and dark aura much needed to the envisions of the album.
If I had a major complaint to give, it’s that for most of the playtime, Septicflesh are merely treading on ground that they had already mastered. I’d love if they would further embrace their urge to invent and imagine because frankly, even a less-prominent record in their discography like ‘A Fallen Temple’ (1998) seems more inspired than this. In summary, it’s all more of the same that we’ve seen across all the post-reunion Septicflesh releases, with the exception of its predecessor and one of the best albums of the band’s career, Codex Omega.
‘Modern Primitive’ is a pretty damn good album and worth my money, but I fear a little for the “replay factor” of it. There’s quality, killer riffs, a good atmosphere, and plenty of grandiosity we would expect from Septicflesh, but there’s just something missing. Most of the issues here are non-relevant and probably caused by the anticipation for a new album after 5 years and due to the fact that it succeeds as one of the Greek’s best works to date, so they are easy to move past. All in all, it’s another win for the band and a huge amount of fun for us listeners.