Released in 1997, Ophidian Wheel proved a major milestone in the musical development of SepticFlesh's, as it was on this album they transitioned from traditional death metal into the symphonic gothic death metal sound that characterizes their current efforts. The album was reissued this october on their current label Season of Mist with three bonus tracks and an awesome new cover artwork.
Ophidian Wheel opens rather weakly with 'The Future Belongs to the Brave'. The problem here is twofold. Firstly, the track itself is simply not among the most convincing songs composed by this otherwise very talented band. Secondly, the production is rather tinny, and the new mastering does not really seem to have helped much. Consequently, the ear which is attuned to the pristine and crisp production of modern metal releases has to get adjusted to the less refined sound on this album at the cost of the opening track. However, if the listener sticks around and listens the entire album through, the listener will soon realize that the rest of the album is pretty good. What I like about it is the eclectic nature of the album, as the listener is treated to od school death metal riffage and harsh vocals appearing side-by-side with symphonic elements and a gothic meodicism. Several tracks on the album sound like a more sophisticated version of Gothic-era Paradise Lost, in the sense that the album is full of melodic doom metal passages. There is also some pretty avant-garde stuff on the album, such as the dramatic 'Tartarus'.
A good album though it is, Ophidian Wheel suffers from not to convicing symphonic elements performed on a synthesizer (in 1997) which sound more like something out of a 1990s fantasy computer game than anthing else. Still, this does not really detract from the compositions or the performance, and the album remains an enjoyable listen. As for the three bonus tracks, I think that the reissue does not really need them, but, then again, I can imagine that hardcore fans of the band will be thrilled to hear them anyway.
Definitely not the best alum by Septicflesh, but perhaps the most important one, Ophidian Wheel should be of great interest to fans of their more recent efforts, such as The Great Mass, because this is where it started. Although I have my reservations towards this album, I really enjoy its eclectic nature and appreciate the gothic doom passages in particular.
1. The Future Belongs to the Brave
2. The Ophidian Wheel
3. Phallic Litanies
4. Razor Blades of Guilt
6. On the Topmost Step of the Earth
8. Geometry in Static
9. Shamanic Rite
10. Heaven Below
12. The Ophidian Wheel (unreleased mix)
13. Phallic Litanies (unreleased mix)
14. On the Topmost Step of the Earth (unreleased mix)