I’m not certain how many have noticed, but this is the third re-release this year by Season of Mist of the Septic Flesh back catalogue. Yes, there was a space in the name when the albums were originally released. ‘Ophidian Wheel’ is now coming out with a new mastering, new artwork specially designed by Seth Siro Anton and three previously unreleased alternative mixes of songs from the album. This album was also their first foray into more avant-garde classical elements, doomier Gothic metal and with soprano Natalie Rassoulis adding to the dynamic with her gorgeous vocals. The rest of the line-up was pretty much the same in the form of Spiros “Seth” Antoniou on the bass and taking care of the death vocals, while the clean vocals were the duty of Sotiris Vayenas while also on guitar and keyboards, whereas primary songwriter Christos Antoniou looked after guitars and keyboards. One noticeable absentee is the non-listing of Kostas the drum machine. 😉
To be honest I’m finding this really hard to listen to and not sing along or anticipate the dynamic changes before they happen. For instance in “The Future Belongs to the Brave” after the initial 30s build-up it just grabs you by the throat and starts to choke with crushing guitars as Seth’s guttural roars take what’s left of the wind from your lungs, but all of a sudden the keyboards kick in for a subtle melody that soothes and calms you just before the honey that is Natalie’s voice takes away all your pain and worries. And from there on in the velvet hand in the iron gauntlet assaults you even though you can know there’s tenderness held within.
There are two versions of the title track “The Ophidian Wheel” and listening to them back to back I feel that the unreleased mix version has a slightly rougher edge to it, especially the drums. Similarly with the 2 versions of “Phallic Litanies” with its ultra-mellow lumbering drumming and triple layered vocals where Natalie hits some notes that might make your ears bleed as Seth’s make your teeth rattle with Sotiris harmonising happily in the middle.
The opening roar on “Razor Blades of Guilt” is only subdued by the heaviness of the guitars until they mellow towards the middle of the song and very slowly fade into “Tartarus” which is abstract and ethereal but beautifully moving at the same time.
The last track with 2 versions is “On the Topmost Step of the Earth” where the differences are rather subtle, particularly focusing on the ambient background sounds while the guitar leads still sound as laid back as ever.
“Microcosmos” is Chaostar in the making with its neoclassical composition and a very brief glimpse into what we know has come since, but “Geometry in Static” is unhindered doom death metal with plenty of blasting to contrast with the melancholy female vocals during the mellow refrains.
I’ve always loved the chanting in “Shamanic Rite” and the fact that it works so well with the music is a bonus.
The keyboards on “Heaven Below” set the mood exquisitely as they are built on slowly by the increasingly heavier guitars while Seth’s harsh vocals work in opposition to the airiness of the music, which is continued in the happy “Enchantment” as the original outro, which is now followed by the unreleased mixes I mentioned above.
All I can really say is, if you missed this the first time around, don’t make that mistake twice.
(9/10 – Marco Gaminara)