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A staggering work of grand atmosphere and live power - 97%

Absinthe1979, April 12th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2020, 2CD + DVD, Season of Mist (Limited edition, Digipak)

The fact of the matter is, I’m not always impressed with live albums. While Maiden’s ‘Live after Death’ and Sabbath’s ‘Reunion’ are two that I will spin until I die, sometimes I feel that live albums tend to unfortunately drain some of the electric excitement of the atmosphere of attending a great show. While I do still purchase them, I’m never particularly amazed by what I hear and they often end up sitting on the shelf after a few initial spins.

Be that as it may, ‘Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX’ by Greece’s mighty Septicflesh is an utter masterpiece in nearly every way; a diamond in the rough of orchestral live shows. We can all point to dozens of bands who have hooked themselves up with an orchestra and then banged through some tracks, usually resulting in mild excitement at best, but never could I have imaged how effective it would all be here. Even with Septicflesh’s brilliant use of orchestra in the studio since ‘Communion’ back in 2008, little did I realise how damned alive the beast could become.

I’ve seen Septicflesh a couple of times live over the years, and while it’s always a good show, the omnipresent backing tracks which make up nearly 50% of their sound (eg. the orchestra) always left me with a feeling of fraudulent incompleteness. Lo and behold, with the Symphonic Experience Orchestra, the Enharmonia Vocalis Choir, and the National University of Mexico’s Children’s and Youth Choir set in an unholy Mexican setting, the full potential of this band is fulfilled.

Firstly, the production is staggering. The orchestra is full and atmospheric, and sounds very close to the studio versions albeit with a sense of immediacy and living grandiosity, which I think works really well here. The mix is just stunning, and the partnership between powerful metal-based instrumentation along with the symphonics lends an almost tangible feel; as if you can really sink your teeth into the sound.

Probably what differentiates the tracks here from their studio editions, apart from the passionate Mexican crowd, are the demonic vocals of Seth Siro Anton. Yes, they sound great on the albums, but on this performance he just lets loose. This is one of the great vocal performances as far as I’m concerned, and his impassioned growls help the tracks explode from the speakers. He holds the crowd in the palm of his hand with his various directions, demands and diabolical messaging.

The track selection is superb. A haunting intro gives way to a version of ‘Portrait of a Headless Man’ that is more powerful and passionate than the studio track, while masterpieces like ‘Prometheus’ (with an introduction in the form of the best part of ‘Dogma’, also from the ‘Titan’ album) and ‘A Great Mass of Death’ are emotional and exhilarating movements. What makes this live album so sensational, however, is that it turns pretty good tracks like ‘The Enemy of Truth’ into absolute classics. In fact, ‘The Enemy of Truth’ is probably my favourite track here as it takes on a new life of inexpressible august epicness with Seth demanding the crowd to “raise the fucking devil horns” as the tidal crash of the orchestra sweeps them away. It’s shivers down the spine stuff. My only personal preference is that I would have loved to have heard 'Sunlight/Moonlight', but alas it's absent without leave.

While I think the band tends to overrate ‘Dark Art’ (it’s certainly not a particularly compelling choice for show closer in my view), and Seth tends to shout “My friends” about a dozen times too many between and during tracks, the impassioned Mexican crowd and the fantastic mix ensure that this is a milestone for the band. It’s a brilliant live album, a fitting best-of, and an elevated aural experience of the world’s greatest symphonic band.

Poetic ceremony of titanic proportions - 95%

Xyrth, February 6th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2020, 2CD + DVD, Season of Mist (Limited edition, Digipak)

Roughly two years ago, on February the 2nd 2019, I awoke around 6 am as we were arriving at Mexico City. Usually a five-plus hour drive by car from Guadalajara, in this metal-maniac-packed concert tour bus, it took us seven hours. Within my military green cargo pants; a couple of concert tickets for the Symphonic Experience of Septicflesh at Teatro Metropolitan for that very evening. The other ticket I had with me was for a female friend. We had been chatting on Facebook for around three years, but since she lived in another city, we hadn't actually met in person. Forward two years into the present; I'm currently living with that girl, and I'm happy as fuck. Also, we're the proud owners of the Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX DVD and CDs, an event that was such a blast in every way and very significant for us both. It feels strange to recall that fateful evening in these gig-deprived, COVID-ruled times we currently live in. But it happened, and it was monumental.

The effort put into this was simply titanic. How these three crazy and extremely talented Greeks and, let's not forget, Austrian, managed to come up with the idea of recording this live chef d'oeuvre over here is well beyond me, but I was one of the fortunate Mexicans to had been blessed by their choice of venue. Not that the Metropolitan Theatre is anything short of wondrous itself, mind you. A former cinema built during the 40s, it has become an impressive sanctuary for the music and performance arts during the last three decades, maintaining its original art deco splendor and stupendous acoustic quality. I myself had already experienced roughly six amazing hours of live King Crimson in 2017 at the Metropolitan, so my expectations for Septicflesh backed up by a complete live orchestra and choir were sky-fucking-high. And they were, naturally, easily surpassed by reality. The Toluca Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the Maestro Fernando Urbán Y Fernández, was a prime choice, as well as the Enharmonía Vocalis Choir and the UNAM’s Children Choir, all spot on.

Septicflesh themselves, were, KILLER. Once the show started I couldn't believe my ears. The songs sounded EXACTLY as in their studio incarnations, the only difference being Siro's speeches and crowd interactions mixed in. My future partner and I were quite distanced from the stage, but the sound was so massive and well balanced, we could discern every instrument, every section, every unit doing their part. Once we got the DVD and CDs, it became quite clear the recording captured everything we experienced as it was. The mixing is superb, Christos' guitars crush with might, as so does Seth Siro Anton's thumping bass. Krimh's drums simply (to put it in Siro's words) DESTROY, and the orchestra and choir sound as one with the band, all perfectly placed, blended and performed. We were fortunate enough to even witness Sotiris' tremendous stage persona, singing with passion and potency. As for the main frontman himself, Siro sounded quite excited but simultaneously in control, and his mighty growls resonated with clamor throughout all the hall, far and wide. This one totally levelled any and all of the seven times I've seen Therion live, for sure. My love and respect for Cristopher Johnsson's band remains of course, especially for their 2004 and before works, but Infernus Sinfoninca MMXIX enacts that Septicflesh rules supreme atop the modern day pantheon of symphonic metal deities, extreme or otherwise.

The setlist is, logically, quite focused on the Greek's past four studio releases, when their symphonic direction became quite notorious. So many great tunes, but since I can be nitpicky here, I would have liked the inclusion of “Theriantropy” or “Five-Pointed Star”. Also, I have to agree with the previous review in that the filmed shots are a little bit limited. A film drone capturing the whole scale of the place and crowd from above would have been cool. Anyway, just some minor bitching on my part, just because. “Pyramid God”, “Dogma of Prometheus”, “Persepolis”, “A Great Mass of Death” or “Anubis”, all are magnificent, and I remember how I felt when they were played that night. For me personally, it will always be a magical night and a magical release, but for you out there, dear metal brother or sisters, who didn't experience this ceremony in the flesh, this might be one of the greatest live symphonic metal experiences you could get your collector's hands at.

Live Inferno - 90%

Livingwave17, July 31st, 2020

It wouldn’t be the first time a metal act brings a symphonic orchestra at a live show. Considering the extent to which Septicflesh makes use of symphonic elements in their music, it was just a matter of time until they took this next step. But I would not have expected it to be this big. The Greek titans of symphonic death metal put together an ensemble of over 100 musicians to join them on stage for what has become “Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX”. That is a full orchestra and 2 choirs backing the roaring performance of our heroes, in a setlist containing songs from their last four albums. Septicflesh are no strangers to creating impressive shows, so with such a massive production, they just might be breaking a few world records.

The concert at hand took place at the Metropolitan Theater in Mexico City, in February 2019. Guitarist and composer Christos Antoniou has been arranging orchestra for the band at least since 2008’s Communion if I’m not mistaken, and the studio records feature actual recorded instruments for this component of the music. Orchestras in metal are usually focused on consistent string sections to give an epic feel, but the orchestras for Septicflesh always stood out from the crowd. There is consistent use of wind instruments and percussion, and the overall tone of biblical tragedy in the band’s sound is highly reliant on the orchestra. This is definitely a unique identifying feature for this veteran act and it is all delivered live on camera in the present release. Completing the symphonic side are the two choirs, the “Enharmonía Vocalis Choir” and the “National University of Mexico Children’s and Youth Choir”. I found the appearances of the children’s choir particularly striking.

The mega-production with the orchestra is essential for lifting this show to epic proportions, but the Greeks have more tricks up their sleeve. The band performance doesn’t slouch either. I must give a massive shout out to Krimh behind the kit. His style is scarily precise, and especially with such a huge ensemble depending on him for timing, I am somewhat floored by his incredibly balanced delivery. Guitar work by Christos and session member Psychon is on point and heard clearly through the whole show. I must applaud how well all the instruments were balanced in the mix considering the scale of this production. And frontman Spiros Antoniou is quite the presence on stage as always, with a ferocious growl and an admirable skill at hyping up the crowd. The band members also keep an imposing stage persona that you can’t help but admire. And this applies especially to Sotiris Vayenas. He has been bailing out extensively on live shows since Psychon stepped in, but his role is now split in two, with Psychon handling the guitar parts and Sotiris appearing on stage solely for the vocal parts. Some of my favorites are in “The Vampire of Nazareth”, “Persepolis” and “Dark Art”.

I have just two gripes with this release. First of all, the filming falls a little flat. There’s a shortage of camera dynamics, and most of all very few close ups (Krimh’s face doesn’t show once in the entire runtime). For a band with such a strong visual component, this does somewhat compromise the experience. Second of all, Spiros tends to compromise his performance at the expense of crowd interaction. The interactive aspect of the show is great, but there are lyrics being skipped or messed up all the way through. Luckily, the instrumental parts are very precise, and the songs stay on track throughout the entire show.

“Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX” is an accurately tiled inferno on stage, released July 31st on Season of Mist, and since we’re all craving a good live show, it’s the perfect pass-time for your quarantine free time.

Enjoy!

Originally written for The Metal Observer