I’ve never liked symphonic elements in metal music in general, apart from some very, very rare occasions. Septicflesh is an example of such occurrence, ever since they put out The Great Mass in 2011. There’s just something magical about that album that sweeped me off my feet the second I heard it, in all of its majestic and punishing glory. The studio documentary that came alongside the special edition of the CD version for the album was filled to the brim with the kind of fascinating details and insight that blew the sixteen year-old me away, and I obsessed over it for a longer while. I did then also thoroughly enjoy Titan that came out a few years later, albeit Codex Omega from 2017 more or less flew over my head, as it had less of a defining and refined edge to it.
Septicflesh is the type of band that truly has their own signature sound and appearance that’s both authentic and inspirational, with most of it stemming from the usage of classical and orchestral elements that are separately composed entities being performed by real musicians, instead of the sadly more usual way of having them just for extra flair, coming from synths and whatever sound banks. So where does Modern Primitive, perhaps the band’s most stripped-down effort, fit on that spectrum?
Truth be told, the first few listens were difficult for me, mainly because of the fact that the elements I so scarcely care for (but did with Septicflesh) aren’t as palpable and upfront as before. The album abides to its title in this sense, which is something I think most of their audience will grasp as well once they hear it. During my initial run-throughs, I honestly couldn’t say if I actually liked it, but that realization followed settled in probably somewhere around my tenth listen. In spite of my first impression, the scale tipped to the positive end after all.
Modern Primitive is not what you’d expect, and maybe not something you actually wanted, but it certainly demonstrates a newfound vision on Septicflesh‘s behalf, and that vision, despite some of its flaws, is a surprisingly potent and firm one.
Now, this is obviously how I see – or rather, hear – it. I can see the most symphony-simping die-hard fans losing their shit just as much as I can see someone not liking the band to begin with go ‘it’s just the same thing all over again‘. While I lie somewhere in the middle of these two, Modern Primitive indeed excels in more bare-bones territory, even though it has familiar hues sprouting through along the way. Songs like the slowly unfolding ravager of an opener that is “The Collector”, what’s perhaps the band’s most extreme track yet with “Coming Storm”, and the haunting closer “A Dreadful Muse” have a stronger emphasis on the orchestrations, representing the perhaps more well-known extreme tendencies of the band. However, I find myself gravitating towards the other end of the spectrum ingrained in the album.
It seems to me that Septicflesh descended down to the gates of hell and offered a part of their soul, meaning a prime cut from their symphonic side, and proceeded to sacrifice it on the altar of the riff to get some in return. I think Septicflesh has so far stayed away from the perhaps mundane riff-centered ideals, but on Modern Primitive, they found themselves integrating that aesthetic into their output, and it’s simply magnificent.
“Neuromancer” and “Psychohistory” are striking and downright nasty for the most part. The guitars take the lead role in carrying the songs forward with a punishing and monolithic edge. The pair strays quite far away from the other song structures built throughout the album and stands out probably exactly because of that. To make matters even more interesting, there’s tons of groove embedded in there, particularly in the two aforementioned songs. The strangest thing is that none of it feels out of place, as the band throws in just enough of their recognizable character to make it all fit in. Sometimes all of the above meet within the confines of a single song, namely on “A Desert Throne”, which in the long run will probably turn out to be the defining cornerstone of Modern Primitive as an entirety.
I did briefly mention the flaws earlier on, and there are a few I think are apt to be addressed here. Firstly, the album is of an ideal length, running a hair under 39 minutes, but the pace is more or less the same and constant throughout it. There’s some faster bursts and modulation here and there, but I honestly would’ve preferred to have clearer and bigger differences in the tracks in this sense. During my first listens, I couldn’t tell the songs apart, and they felt a bit paste-ish because of it. My second point of whining is tangential to this, as not only would the album have benefitted from different paces, the individual tracks could’ve used more variety in them as well. This creates a clear separation between the songs that are just astonishing and pop up, and those that just exist in the middle.
But in the end, as I said, Modern Primitive presents Septicflesh in a surprisingly digestable and straightforward form. The more I listen to the album, the more I realise how much water has flowed through the rivers of time during the past decade. No band should stay immobile and repeat themselves or utilize well-perceived formulas to just keep on keeping on, but there’s always certain pitfalls related to progress and taking leaps forwars. Septicflesh avoids most of these, the major ones especially, and despite its roughness and some scruples, Modern Primitive in its excellency is a truly fresh effort from a band who has just entered their fourth decade in existence.