It honestly really surprises me how this record has languished in obscurity for so long, despite the popularity of their later works. This makes those records literally look like nothing by comparision, with all due respect. This album is a masterpiece of complex, original, but most importantly, genuinely imaginative death metal.
While Septic Flesh
was by no means the first death metal band to bring keyboards to the table (Morbid Angel
come to mind right off the bat), they utilized them to such a degree here that has no real counterparts in death metal. The keyboards are an extremely important part of the songs on here, as they fulfill a fairly large number of roles within these tracks.
The composition of the record, however, is really what makes Mystic Places of Dawn
such a brilliant record to me. Septic Flesh
are not a band that focuses on force or outright brutality, like the vast majority of death metal (i'd actually argue that there's some subtle yet important nods to traditional heavy metal like Mercyful Fate
with some of the keyboard lines, as well as the general feel of some of these tracks); even the faster, more blast-heavy tracks have a different feel from what you'd expect. Instead, the band manages to weave the riffs, keyboards, and lead guitar (including numerous harmonies - not in the Gothenburg vein, mind you) to create genuinely flowing songs. Even the title track, which relies on a verse-chorus song structure, also takes a truly dynamic, layered approach that really lets the song breathe and develop itself.
It's clear to me that Septic Flesh
spent a lot of time composing these songs, because there's an incredibly meticulous sense of flow and pacing to these songs; the band virtually never feels the need to rush these songs. Even the faster, more blast-heavy tracks ("Return
" and "Behind The Iron Mask
") have a much more patient and, well, graceful feel to them than you'd expect. The songs on this record are absolutely masterful, with a truly adventurous feeling to them, in terms of composition and structure.
The songs weave together all of the various elements of the band's song in the best way possible. The riffs are absolutely brilliant, with a deeply rich, melodic feel to them. These riffs aren't sugary whatsoever, and they possess a deeply nuanced feeling to them that becomes more apparent with future listens. The guitars and the aforementioned keyboards often interplay with each other, building up and developing these songs throughout. The keyboards are utilized masterfully on this record; be it either counterpoint the guitars, providing texture to the songs, or even helping to define their themes, they're used in a brilliant, yet tasteful manner. The lead guitar work is absolutely fantastic, almost coming off as songs-within-songs, with a truly graceful and rich sense of melody, but with enough taste to not become overbearing or masturbatory.
Structurally, this record is pretty ambitious. The band tends to avoid verse-chorus much of the time, favouring a more progressive, flowing approach. The songs gradually build up in a careful, tightly regimented manner; like I mentioned earlier, it sounds like the band spent a lot of time carefully writing and putting the songs together. The songs tend to stick to mid-pace much of the time, but even when the band speeds up into more thrash and blasting tempos, they do it in a very natural, organic manner, without coming off as forced or artificial.
Each of the songs on this record possesses a mood and feel all of their own, while at the same time still perfectly fitting together within the greater whole of the record. "Return
", for example, has a distinctly combative, tense feeling to it, whereas the next song, "Crescent Moon
" has a rich, truly glorious feel to how it plays out. (akin to going back to witness some ancient civilization at its peak, if you will) Then a couple tracks later, you get "Behind The Iron mask", which despite being a blast-heavy track, also has a distinctly sorrowful, tragic feel to its riffs and keyboard melodies. The band also has a distinct sense of melancholy in the mood of some of these songs, as evidence in the chorus of the title track, or "(Morpheus
) The Dreamlord". This is all very subtle, and i'm not sure if i've ever fully disgested it, but the band somehow manages to make all of these songs, despite their very obvious differences in mood perfectly fit together in the greater context of the rest of the record.
The production job on this record is absolutely stunning. Perhaps it's a little limited next to what you'd get nowadays, but for the songs, it's absolutely flawless. The guitar tone has a warm, thick, all-consuming tone to it that highlights the riffs and melodic ideas the band plays through equally. It's incredibly difficult to describe, but it isn't your standard DM guitar sound. (not that it's a bad thing by any means!) The keyboards possess a deeply detailed tone to them, and they mesh in perfectly without the tone being too chintzy or overly obvious in the mix. The drums have a sort of synthetic quality to them, cutting through the thick guitar/keyboard combo to give the music a pulse. The drumming isn't anything spectacular, but the percussion is tasteful and varied enough to help drive the songs forward. The vocals are a low-pitched growl, with backing shrieks... they're not bad at all, but they're the least important part of the music in my view. They're maybe mixed a little loud, but it's an incredibly trivial quibble at best.
This is a truly brilliant record, in my opinion. Septic Flesh
's output to me is very mixed from what i've checked out (Esoptron
is nearly as good as this, and I don't dig Communion
whatsoever), but this is the height of their output.