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If Mystic Places of Dawn was an indication (as it proved to be), Septicflesh was a band destined to do great things, and it wasn't long before a similarly sanguine followup was delivered. Esoptron relies less on an all-consuming atmosphere, instead providing a panorama of doomy death metal prowess. There's this sort of medieval gothic vibe beginning to emerge here (most prevalent on brief interludes like "Celebration"), a factor that would dominate Septicflesh's following release, Ophidian Wheel. The sound is still archaic and ageless, but the overall effect of Esoptron evokes less wonder and mystique than its predecessor. Nonetheless, Esoptron shines with striking power; every album by this impeccable band is worth hearing, and it should come as no surprise that this one is no exception.
The production values have been vastly improved, though the tone does emit dryness when that siren of a lead guitar isn't shedding some sunlight on this haunting trek through Hades. This remains the most astounding facet of Septicflesh: the arresting beauty that manages to permeate its way through the depths of the band's deep, guttural darkness. This is achieved once again by excellent synths and keyboards, especially notable on "Narcissism," which is quite a daunting experience in itself. A nine minute journey across an abstract realm, the song brings just about everything Septicflesh had and combines it into one slow, progressive churn through the gothic landscape, adding in some eerily effective clean vocals just for good measure. That's one hell of a way to end an album.
Elsewhere, the album operates on a more concise level than that epic or even the debut, presenting songs around the 4-5 minute range with no lesser impact. "Ice Castle" in particular chills to the core with its building, sorrowful tension, containing emotionally dynamic melodies swarming all around in a suffocatingly moving blizzard. And it does all that while scarcely progressing beyond midpace. In fact, if you haven't noticed already, Esoptron always moves along with a patient, leisurely stride, never busting into unnecessary sections of speed. The title track follows this method, beggining with a rather pedestrian riff, but it all pays off when each of the individual layers come together to form a truly euphoric feast of musical delight.
Esoptron lies in a somewhat uncomfortable place in the Septicflesh discography, smashed in between the two near-flawless masterworks of Mystic Places of Dawn and Ophidian Wheel, but it easily holds its own (and your attention) for the modest 43 minute runtime. It's an album I quickly dismissed upon first listens, a mistake that could be made with several of their releases, but when given time to grow, Esoptron crawls within the recesses of the mind and takes sieze. Who knows, my marks for this one might just keep going up; I certainly haven't grown tired of it yet. Various production and distribution issues plagued this band until the release of Revolution DNA, and these early albums still haven't received the remaster or even rerelease treatment they've always deserved. Hopefully their newfound popularity will thrust these releases back into the spotlight.