SummaryThe wheel is cracked
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While the bizarre experimentation of Revolution DNA was still unthinkable of at this point and the mess called A Fallen Temple was yet to be created, I can’t help but think that Ophidian Wheel marks Septic Flesh‘s first step towards mediocrity. Although still comparable to their previous two albums, this album sees Septic Flesh gradually distancing themselves from death metal and also introduces several amounts of female vocals of Natalie Rassoulis, who soars loud around the nasal vocals of Sotiris and the guttural roars of Spiros.
In terms of atmosphere, Ophidian Wheel is yet another evocative album that recalls ancient kingdoms and majestic palaces. The guitars are still fairly melodic and pretty much every tune consists of a few memorable and smooth licks you won’t forget anytime soon. The amounts of female vocals that Ophidian Wheel introduces do make a difference though; as the ritualistic atmosphere of “Shamanic Rite” is something Septic Flesh hadn’t summoned before and while I’ll give the band credit for trying, the tune would have been a lot more enjoyable if it weren’t for those exaggerated chants dominating its chorus. Forget the lack of death metal fury (though you can still hear a death metal riff dominating the verse), but with clean vocals this obnoxious, it sounds as if Natalie Rassoulis is tripping over some drugs she had taken before entering the studio. “Phallic Litanies” features some of the most moving guitar lines unfolding themselves between the contrastive vocal duet that works far better and the result is something rather dramatic with a Middle Ages-esque quality to it. I also can’t help but notice some minor melodic death metal influences appearing on Ophidian Wheel, as both the aforementioned track’s heavier parts as well as the ear-catchy melodies of the title track are vaguely reminiscent of Edge of Sanity’s Purgatory Afterglow. Perhaps this was a coincidence or perhaps it wasn’t, but either way I’d have preferred Septic Flesh to sound like, you know… Septic Flesh!
It’s not just a matter of style differences and adjustments that make Ophidian Wheel somewhat different, but I can’t help but think that Septic Flesh were losing their touch at this point; resulting into inconsistencies in terms of mixing the “metal” with the band’s atmospheric side. “Razor Blades of Guilt” is partially one of the heaviest cuts on the album, but with death metal riffs these dull why even bother? It’s nearly two minutes of plain generic boredom before the track takes an unexpected turn for the best. You’ve got these classy leads dancing around each other and the result is an unexpected, yet grandiose climax of emotional power. Still, even when Septic Flesh keeps their identity intact, the results are unfortunately pretty mixed here. “The Future Belongs to the Brave” features one of the most dramatic guitar lines soaring towards heavens, yet the track has little to offer in terms of actual riffing besides dull chugging that couldn’t end soon enough.
It’s also tricky describing why Ophidian Wheel does succeed at certain things, as its standout tracks are pretty different from each other. The aforementioned “Phallic Litanies” is fairly slow paced, there’s features the right amount of emphasis on energetic riffing that appears out of the blue and I’m rather fond of it. “Geometric in Static” opens up with one of the most elegant riffs you’ll probably ever stumble upon on a death metal song; as if you’re about to enter the palace of proud and mighty kings who have ruled ancient lands for decades, yet it doesn’t take long before Chris and Sotiris create havoc with waves of violent death metal riffs and the contrastive result is something wonderful. “Heaven Below” almost sounds like an elegant version of what Paradise Lost were doing circa Icon, minus the blues-y textures and rough vocals. It’s not the most interesting tune in terms of actual riffing, sure, but thanks to the addictive leads and moving chorus, it stands like a huge monument expressing Greek melancholy only Septic Flesh were capable of at this time.
While Ophidian Wheel is just too much of an average effort of a once great band, it beats the crap out of anything that followed, yet at the same time, this sounds far less impressive than its predecessors, so take that as you will. Oh and as far as that cover artwork goes… let’s just say that I’m just as confused about it as you are.
Release date: April 7th, 1997
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