Septic Flesh – Mystic Places of Dawn (1994)
So if you’re a fan of the latter day Septic Flesh (anything after Ophidian Wheel or A Fallen Temple depending on what system you reckon by), you’re liable to be totally bowled over by how different Mystic Places of Dawn is on first impact. Even the band’s 1991 “Temple of the Lost Race” didn’t have that much impact. It’s a lot slower and doomier (although it has its moments of breakneck speed), with a slightly lo-fi production and more complex arrangements. Then, you hear the emphasis on leads on leads, the occult lyrics, etc. and realize that the way Septic Flesh constructs their music hasn’t changed as much as one would think. Now, I don’t know how much contact the band had with the rest of the metal world, but in large enough qualities, one could consider this a retort to the nascent Gothenburg scene, if a particularly atmospheric one.
Arguably, our favorite Greeks (assuming I’m not a closet Necromantia fan) were influenced in this direction by their resources, which aren’t exactly suited towards pure brutality. Case in point – the drums have this weird ‘MIDI’ sound to them. Supposedly, the band used a drum machine instead of a live drumkit, which would explain things. The guitars fare better, although they lean very heavily towards preservation of tone, with a relatively relaxed timbre. Regardless of why, this album often becomes very sedate and ambient – case in point, the beginning of “Pale Beauty of the Past”. Even on the fast and intense songs (“Return to Carthage” and “Behind the Iron Mask”), the band refuses to give up their atmospheric touch, so they retain significant keyboard passages along with the blasting.
Again, any reasons to listen to this hinge very strongly on arrangements, as this is most assuredly not the best sounding Septic Flesh album; that honor goes to Communion. This is a highly varied album in terms of mood, with its share of contemplative songs, violent songs, even plenty of morose near the end of the album. Songs on this album have been described as cyclical, and you surely will hear many repeated riffs over the course of a song. However, even with this considerable amount of repetition, ‘chorus’ riffs are generally followed up with a further development of the material; although they occasionally also serve as codas. Also, this is one of those albums where the leads and keyboard backing is often more memorable than the riffs – for instance, “Crescent Moon” wouldn’t be nearly as powerful were it not for the harmonized melodies in its middle. Despite the significant ‘symphonic’ keyboard backing, the riffs are not simplified as a result of this.
Even in 1994, the band’s ambitions were significant. The album ends with “Mythos”, a 9 minute neoclassical piece that covers all sorts of dramatic territory, while remaining highly varied and dynamic. Some of the transitions are admittedly a bit clunky, and the aesthetics would’ve benefited from some real instruments, but it’s still a sign of things to come for the band. Arguably this strain of ideas was what eventually lead the band to form their gothic/operatic sideproject ‘Chaostar’, which explored these ideas further, and to the ‘symphonic death metal’ sound the band forged after their reformation in 2007. Still, it’s best to treat Mystic Places of Dawn as a fully evolved beast in its own right – certainly of a different species and niche than its successors, but particularly good at exploiting it.
Highlights: “Mystic Places of Dawn”, “Crescent Moon”, “Morpheus the Dreamlord”