In the modern metal lexicon, European metal has often been used to denote bands that relied extensively on Iron Maiden harmonies, keyboards, pseudo-classical melodies, female vocalists, tremolo picked riffs and overall less influence from Pantera and Metallica. Septic Flesh have come to epitomize this style despite adding a lot more Metalcore elements to keep with the times. Before the name change, the band were once an overlooked force and presented many ideas that metal as a whole was never fully able to capitalize on. Ophidian Wheel is the summit of the band’s creativity and pushes the romantic qualities of metal even further.
The heavy metal mannerisms utilized by the Hellenic Black metal bands merge with lush keyboards in relief against flowing European Death metal riffs. The keyboards emulate the timbres of various instruments while the guitars happily let go of the distortion to support such moments. The drums are programmed albeit with a convincing tone as they support the music perfectly without ever seeking the spotlight yet with enough variety to truly accentuate what is being played. The triple vocal attack of bassist Spiros, guitarist Sotiris and guest singer Natalie weaves these pieces into grandiose epics. Spiros utilizes both a traditionally European rasp and a dominating low end grunt. The vocal interplay never feels schizophrenic or forced as Spiros takes the lead for the most part and handles the harsher Death metal segments while Sotiris and Natalie alternate during the more consonant parts to create large vocal melodies that improve the music without ever becoming the sole focal point.
Septic Flesh’s ability to effectively orchestrate their music is unparalleled in metal as they always select the right tool for the job and never feel compelled to use them all within each composition. The individual elements each play a simple melody that would sound incomplete by itself or even derivative but the layering assures that each instrument adds something to complete the idea. “On the Topmost Step of the Earth” shows this perfectly as the final iteration of the song’s main melody features a combination of thudding rhythm guitars, a clean electric guitar, strong grunts and the synths emulating an orchestra yet if one of those elements were to be removed the whole passage would lose potency. On “Shamanic Rites” the band opt for a more aggressive approach and focus on a well done dichotomy of rhythm guitars and soaring harmonized leads that slowly lead to Natalie soaring like a prime Lisa Gerrard and this time the inverse is true as any more would have resulted in overkill.
Arrangements focus on using tense Death metal riffs to create tension that then culminates with short orchestral parts before then imploding into the fully grandiose passages. The riffs show great understanding of the Dismember school of Swedish Death metal and while they do briefly opt for some groovier moments, those parts are no more than brief transitions towards better riffs and melodies. The band work around these cycles but add deviations that adapt to the needs of each composition. Each iteration of an idea will retain the same essential motifs but will be orchestrated slightly differently that nourishes the Homeric vision of these ideas and maintains a sense of progress that stops these parts from devolving into simple choruses that provide respite from the harder riffs. Ideas are constantly reintroduced and exploited fully especially during the climaxes and conclusions that the band flesh out fully to ensure that every emotion is properly instilled within the listener.
A very rich album that managed to combine many great ideas into a rich and unique whole that shows how much could still be done within the Hellenic base. Ophidian Wheel is a forgotten classic that deserves its place at the top of the pantheon just below the unmovable greats.