Septic Flesh – Esoptron (1995)
Esoptron has a worse production than the Septic Flesh albums around it, and overall decreased aggression levels without the operatic vocals of its successor. Why, then, is it included as an important part of the band’s canon? It’s very simple – Esoptron (or Εσοπτρον for those who read Greek) shows the continued development of the band’s evolution as writers and composers. More than that, Esoptron arguably represents the band’s first attempts at writing in the style that they would use on their future albums. However, as those ideas were still very much under development, this album also showcases a good deal of overt death metal influence.
The obvious example of this is “Rain”; which along with “So Clean, So Empty” is so clearly of the Mystic Places of Dawn school that you wouldn’t need me to point it out to you if you’d actually sat down and listened to this album… and I hope you do. Even then, they are a bit simpler and more direct, with an increased emphasis on their orchestration and guitar leads compared to the content on the band’s full length debut. The production does emphasize the melodic aspects of the music; its main problem is that it simply isn’t very strong, especially with the MIDI-sounding drums that admittedly afflicted the last album. There’s also a little bit of vocal experimentation, in that a few lines are delivered in a style reminiscent of Orthodox liturgical music, further emphasizing the melodies.
The songs that “point the way forwards”, then, are the slow (actually mid-paced) ones. Like the faster, more overtly death metal influenced content, they rely heavily on keyboards and lead guitar to drive themselves forwards. In some ways, this means they are like the next album (Ophidian Wheel), although the operatics that defined that album aren’t here. Given the aesthetic, the death growls of Spiros almost seem out of place after a while. They don’t have enough of the aggression on the first album to coordinate with, or the contrast of style on the next one. That, I suppose, is this album’s true weakness, since the production could be relatively easily fixed with a remaster or even a full on re-recording. Changing the vocals would require significant edits to the arrangements themselves. In fact, such a thing might be why Septic Flesh changed their style after their reformation. Many of the elements that showed up on the early albums are present on the later ones, but the overall aesthetic of recent works is much more aggressive. Not knowing how much influence each member of the band has in the songwriting process, I hypothesize that the main vocalist didn’t want to stop doing his growls, and therefore drove the band back into death metal to compensate. The period between 1995-1999 which this album falls into is the opposite of that, for better or for worse.
Highlights: “Burning Phoenix”, “Ice Castle”, “So Clean, So Empty”