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If Mystic Places of Dawn was an indication (as it proved to be), Septicflesh was a band destined to do great things, and it wasn't long before a similarly sanguine followup was delivered. Esoptron relies less on an all-consuming atmosphere, instead providing a panorama of doomy death metal prowess. There's this sort of medieval gothic vibe beginning to emerge here (most prevalent on brief interludes like "Celebration"), a factor that would dominate Septicflesh's following release, Ophidian Wheel. The sound is still archaic and ageless, but the overall effect of Esoptron evokes less wonder and mystique than its predecessor. Nonetheless, Esoptron shines with striking power; every album by this impeccable band is worth hearing, and it should come as no surprise that this one is no exception.
The production values have been vastly improved, though the tone does emit dryness when that siren of a lead guitar isn't shedding some sunlight on this haunting trek through Hades. This remains the most astounding facet of Septicflesh: the arresting beauty that manages to permeate its way through the depths of the band's deep, guttural darkness. This is achieved once again by excellent synths and keyboards, especially notable on "Narcissism," which is quite a daunting experience in itself. A nine minute journey across an abstract realm, the song brings just about everything Septicflesh had and combines it into one slow, progressive churn through the gothic landscape, adding in some eerily effective clean vocals just for good measure. That's one hell of a way to end an album.
Elsewhere, the album operates on a more concise level than that epic or even the debut, presenting songs around the 4-5 minute range with no lesser impact. "Ice Castle" in particular chills to the core with its building, sorrowful tension, containing emotionally dynamic melodies swarming all around in a suffocatingly moving blizzard. And it does all that while scarcely progressing beyond midpace. In fact, if you haven't noticed already, Esoptron always moves along with a patient, leisurely stride, never busting into unnecessary sections of speed. The title track follows this method, beggining with a rather pedestrian riff, but it all pays off when each of the individual layers come together to form a truly euphoric feast of musical delight.
Esoptron lies in a somewhat uncomfortable place in the Septicflesh discography, smashed in between the two near-flawless masterworks of Mystic Places of Dawn and Ophidian Wheel, but it easily holds its own (and your attention) for the modest 43 minute runtime. It's an album I quickly dismissed upon first listens, a mistake that could be made with several of their releases, but when given time to grow, Esoptron crawls within the recesses of the mind and takes sieze. Who knows, my marks for this one might just keep going up; I certainly haven't grown tired of it yet. Various production and distribution issues plagued this band until the release of Revolution DNA, and these early albums still haven't received the remaster or even rerelease treatment they've always deserved. Hopefully their newfound popularity will thrust these releases back into the spotlight.
Esoptron is yet another bright example of Greek finery, though its a misnomer to label anything this brooding and sultry as 'bright'. With Mystic Places of Dawn, Septic Flesh had proven that they could immerse their audience into a lush miasma of affliction, and with its successor, that audience is once again soaked upon the torrents of tragedy. If there's a difference, though, it's that Esoptron has a mildly more accessible construction to it, a collection of simple, sailing melodies heavily processed to create the illusion of some spiral down into the netherworld. Nightmares so beautiful that their drudging backbone and guttural narration cannot out-gravitate the Gothic glare of the guitar tone and the synthesized instruments spun across the album's brief, admittedly cheesy interludes.
These do serve to break up the effectiveness of the longer compositions, and I can't say they were necessary, but they also provide the more experimental elements of the sophomore, like the droning, cavernous industrial wash of "Breaking the Inner Seal"; the tonal curiosity and glittering chimes of "Astral Sea"; the flighty flutes and pianos of "Celebration". Otherwise, the album is almost fully composed of slower, numbing elegies that counterbalance the low end of the vocals with the heavily-effected guitar tone: from the truly trawling "So Clean, So Empty" and "Rain" to the more pick-me-up overtures of "Esoptron" and "Succubus Priestess", both of which erupt into straightforward but forgettable charges at their cores. In my opinion, the 9 minute closer "Narcissism" is the true highlight of the album, foreshadowing some of the brilliant melodic elements that would follow on the epic Ophidian Wheel. Despite its bulk, the mix of whispered and brutal vocals and the dynamic variation woven throughout create a more fulfilling encounter than any of the shorter pieces. Though the elegant "Ice Castle" and "Burning Phoenix" come pretty close in terms of quality.
I can't say that the album had the same, stunning effect on me as Mystic Places of Dawn, but it tries, and if it suffers anywhere that would be the production and the lagging behind of some of the guitar notation. It seems that whenever the band aren't coursing through one of their huge melodies, the songs seem to just sulk about, threatening to cast the shadows of ennui in place of their typical, effective sorrow. Part of this is just that the guitar levels feel a bit uneven with the tinny drums, and often blend too closely into the keyboards. Mystic Places was hardly a bastion of production standards itself, but I felt like that album had a sadder, more disturbing effect on me, while this often seems too strangely enthusiastic about its doom and gloom. However, it's still well worth hearing, functioning on many of the same strengths, from its atmosphere to its lyrical fortitude, and captures a lot of that early to mid 90s appeal that many of today's younger initiates fail to reproduce with their monotonous vocals and drowning reverb.
This album is the epitome of atmospheric death metal, and probably one of the best albums to come out of Greece. It sure put Septic Flesh on the map.
The first real song is "Esoptron," and starts with a simple riff. This is pretty deceptive, because when the verse kicks in, the guitar becomes kind of spacey. Then the vocals...ahh! Lovely death metal vocals! Spiros' vocals are great; very deep, rumbling death growls, but he does scream a few times, and later in the album Sotiris does some chanting. In the middle, it all changes to a Morbid Angel-esque, quickly picked riff (kind of like the beginning of "Rapture"), then a cool ending. The ending is especially nice; a kind of spacey riff with really low piano keys played and Spiros growling "ESOPTRON!" over and over. Before that, Sortiris plays a very good solo, almost like Adrian Smith's work on "Stranger in a Strange Land." "Rising Pheonix" follows, and it's faster. Again, a great hook shows up in the middle, as well as some chanting that sounds like Benedictine monks. "Ice Castle" is very melodic, almost balladesque, but beautiful. It sounds pretty cold, just like the title suggests, and moves along very slowly. "Eyes of Set" pretty much closes the album (the song "Narcissism" is not great), and it's very majestic sounding. The verses build, with a slightly driving riff, and the part after the chorus sounds like some sort of war march. Very cool.
These guys like their sound effect, apparently. I think that Sortiris' guitar is processed through a mountain of effects boards, but he manages to use it all really effectively. I'm often left thinking that this is some bastard hybrid of Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick and Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time, because they have a real slick synthetic vibe to it, with tasteful solos and a few grinding riffs. The clean riffs are really nice, too. Every song has a great melodic riff that hooks you into the rest of it.
The bummer songs are the little intros and the last song, "Narcissism." "Breaking the Inner Seal" (is this about taking a piss?) is your standard keyboard intro, not interesting at all. "Astral Sea" sounds like someone throwing pebbles at a harp, just to see what types of noises it can make. In other words, it's hardly music. "Celebration" is some sort of harpsichord/flute thing. I hate that shit! Gladly, it's not nearly as bad as anything from a Rhapsody album, but it conjures up images of people dressed up in tutus and dancing around while fantasizing about Dungeons and Dragons, and little happy elves in the forest. So yeah, it's bad, to say the least. "Narcissism" has a catchy little riff, but that disappears into Spiros growling with some keyboards, and then some chanting. Sadly, it's the longest song on the album, and doesn't seem that epic to me. Experimental, and I kind of want to say "industrial," but it's not too mechanic.
Another reason I can't give this a really perfect score is the drums. I think they're done by the same Costas who played with Nightfall, and once again, they sound just like a machine. Granted, they're well programmed, they bring down the whole of the album because they're boring and sound bad.
Even though I'd probably classify this as death metal, it's VERY melodic, and by that I don't mean in the typical Gothenburg way, and it certainly would turn off a lot of brutal death fanatics. The Iron Maiden melodies and solos are everywhere, and there's a lot of experimenting with different textures and atmospheres (done with keyboards and/or guitar synth). If you're open minded, and don't mind melodic stuff, you'll find this a very entertaining album. If not, stay away.
Evolving from a somewhat generic death metal, the greek masters of Dark Metal deliver what's arguably their finest effort. Reduced to the two masterminds of the band (Spiros and Sotiris), the pair produced something unique, an alliance of dark moods, brooding vocals and dreamy lyrics that set the stage for the scene of avant-garde doom metal.
Songs like "Succubus Priestess" and "The Eyes of Set" still echo the beginnings of Septic Flesh, firmly rooted in the greek Death Metal scene, while songs like "Esoptron" or "Ice Castle" indicate the way that the band was to take on following albums. What really stands out on this album are the moods created by the band, each a perfect fit to the themes and lyrics of the songs. Sotiris' guitar work sets the stage for a oniric voyage through the mental universe of the band. Spiros has to be one of the best growlers in the scene, and the duets with Spiros' clean voice add an unmistakable trademark to this album (trademark which carries on until today), as featured of "Burning Phoenix". The closing number, "Narcissim", demonstrates fully the skills of the band, alterning quiet moods with powerful riffs and devastating lyrics.
Quite frankly, this is the epitome of Atmospheric metal. If you're a fan of the genre, then look no further !