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It's hard to articulate the seams of "Mystic Places of Dawn." Hell, it's just as hard to grasp what made Septicflesh (or Septic Flesh, or whatever) tick, years after this release. "Mystic Places of Dawn" is first and foremost unlike anything I could’ve ever imagined. I knew Septicflesh was a bit on the weird side, what with the orchestral elements placed into their death metal genetics on "Communion" and "The Great Mass," but this is just...otherworldly; far beyond the visions of scope and sight. While traditional factors of death metal are important to "Mystic Places of Dawn," Septicflesh manufactured an identity shrouded in folklore and atmosphere, appearing to paint a premonition of ancient civilizations and perverse rituals of lust and indulgence and sacrifice to formless idols long since buried in the decaying sands of time.
As I said, putting this into words is a little tricky, because Septicflesh is worlds beyond the cookie-cutter idea of death metal. What they do here is largely based on cryptic, melancholic guitar lines slithering against a synth-heavy postulate, then sticking many archetypical themes of death metal (growling vocals, blast beats, etc.) into the atmospheric nimbus of gloom, and the end result makes the genetic code of Septicflesh circa 1994. "Mystic Places of Dawn," however, is strictly not a roasting bulldozer, as there are savage, ravenous riffing sections and stints of violence afoot, but it's usually caught in the layered, perplexing web of atmosphere. Spiros Antoniou's performance here is probably the finest example of growling vocals you'll ever hear: his voice is guttural and fleshly, like a bloody, ancient demon. In fact, everything about this record is so unique and dynamic that when it all comes together, it sounds like a vortex to some macabre otherworld.
"Mystic Places of Dawn," though, is a stellar example of near-perfect songwriting. Every offering is like an ethereal chapter in an evolving tale of ancient mystery, from the slicing malevolence of "Behind the Iron Mask" to more experimental numbers focused on clean guitars and synths like "The Underwater Garden." Hell, "Mythos," the two-part instrumental epic shutting down the album, has no riffs or growls or drums or anything that would constitute a traditional death metal instrumental; it's a synth-based piece which emits an orchestral vibe of magic and illumination. Few bands could ever pull this off and, more importantly, make it work. "Crescent Moon" trucks on for eight minutes in the arcane bliss of clandestine guitar work and ravish, passionate intensity, and, like the remaining album, is simply amazing.
I can guarantee there are few death metal albums that’ll ever rival the eloquent blueprint of "Mystic Places of Dawn." While Septicflesh has largely been able to flourish yet remain like Septicflesh throughout their absorbing (and somehow underappreciated) ritual of a career, I find myself more impressed by these many death metal opuses than their orchestral material. This opinion is (obviously) purely subjective, but here the creativity and semblance provides an atmosphere so unique and perplexing that it really isn't matched by future albums—at least beyond "Sumerian Daemons." To conclude, Septicflesh's work is an elegant, prodigious collection of some of the most excellent death metal ever created. "Mystic Places of Dawn" has been reissued, so grab a copy and let it send you to a world long since forgotten.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
After experiencing the marvelous grandiose of The Great Mass, an album which converted me to an avid Septicflesh fan, you can imagine my surprise when I voyaged into the enormous back catalogue of this fantastic Greek death metal band only to find the group drastically different yet equally wondrous. Mystic Places of Dawn sports a fitting name, representing both the dawning of a new, suffocating vision along with the mind-bending mystery surrounding it. It's an album cloaked in melancholic beauty, churning deep with macabre doom riffs and a crestfallen atmosphere so penetrating that it breathes life into its own murky corridors. Almost nowhere to be found are the potent symphonic elements so prevalent on later albums like Communion; this is a pure ritual founded on the flesh and blood of ancient gods.
That doesn't mean, however, that the album offers nothing more than a droning atmosphere. The amount of effective melodic hooks is surprising considering the overall vibe of sadness here, providing a perfect balance of memorable songwriting and overwhelming grief. This effect is mostly provided by the sharp lead guitars, which are so acute I'd swear they could slice right through steel. When I think about Septicflesh, all I can feel are those lucid leads piercing my inner being. Elsewhere, some practical synths lie beneath the rest, serving to enhance an already expertly layered sound with even more intricacy; and although Sotiris's excellent clean vocals hadn't quite been realized yet, Spiros Antoniou's urgent growl still adequately presents the band's eloquent prose. Lyrically the band was soon to reach its height with the wonderful Ophidian Wheel, but the themes and and elegant lines of poetry here still surpass most of those who speak English alone.
In terms of death metal songcraft, Septicflesh stand alone on their own creative plateau. Even on the debut, the ideas were fully formed and ready to go. Highlights? Almost everything. "Return to Carthage" buzzes in the bottom end and goes at blazing speed until the magical chorus arrives, mesmerizing with its romantic leads and synths. "Chasing the Chimera" is an all out doom fest, twisting and turning its way to the shores of victory, almost introspective in its up-and-down delivery. "The Underwater Garden" feels as if it was recorded in its titular location. The best riff of the entire album appears on "Morpheus (The Dreamlord)," a crushing wonder of a song that features impeccable violin accompaniment during a whimsical midsection. "Mythos" contains nine minutes of simple, symphonic ambiance, and it never gets boring for a second. This arrangement is absolutely genius and must be heard to be believed.
Mystic Places of Dawn is one of the better debuts ever recorded and remains a highlight of the genre itself. I don't believe it's quite this band's crowning jewel, as The Great Mass and Ophidian Wheel aim even higher and achieve greatness in arguably superior ways, but that's the great thing about Septicflesh: each of their albums is so different it can be enjoyed on its own independent level. A varying style is played on every other record of theirs, so chances are, there's at least one among them for everybody. I just happen to enjoy them all. This album does possess a couple of weak points, like the brief, seemingly out of place "Behind the Iron Mask." The production is technically terrible, sounding muddled and noisy beyond its years, but don't let that keep you from discovering the beauty within. Get this now if you can.
Having already established themselves as one of the most unique and refreshing new faces in European death metal with their Temple of the Lost Race EP, the years were only going to be kind to Septic Flesh, not to mention their listeners. Mystic Places of Dawn was an astounding debut which easily surpassed that 1991 release in both scope and quality, a solemn excursion into places mythological and fantastic, an atmospheric descent of death and doom freckled by the glint of brighter synthesizers, lyrical evocations of the ancient and historical, and the drawling guttural brutality of Spiros Antoniou. It would be a fair comparison to measure this album up against the formative works of the higher profile death/doom hybrids coming out of England (Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Anathema, etc). The Greeks are not always labeled as such, but Mystic Places of Dawn paints the same, downward slope to sorrow with an even broader, atmospheric brush.
This album is a monster of melancholy, and while it hovers at around 55 minutes, a substantial duration for death metal in its day, I highly recommend listening all at once, for the ebb and flow of the material seems almost too much to contain in just a fraction of its sum composition. The process here usually involves simplistic, driving or dredging guitar lines sauced in a cheesy but ever memorable topping of tinny synthesizers, and the haunting lamentations of guitar melodies filtered through the perfect level of reverb and effect. Don't be mistaken to think this is always being performed at a crawl, because a number of tunes like "Return to Carthage" or the title track thunder along with the same velocity of their death metal peers. However, it's a general rule that the band will segue into some eloquent, doom dripping passage at some point, even in the faster fare, so there is no reason to fear some dearth of variation.
Certain tracks are admittedly 'prettier' than others, like the dreamy sequences of synthesizer bliss that adorn "The Underwater Garden", or the pure synthesizer finale of "Mythos - Part I: Elegy" and "Part II: Time Unbounded", but Septic Flesh were one of the better bands to incorporate keyboards into the genre, alongside Finland's Amorphis, who also put out a rather stunning effort in the same year (the phenomenal Tales from the Thousand Lakes). That album had far better production than Mystic Places of Dawn, but the actual contrasts of melody and brutality are quite similar, taking into account the varied cultural subtext beneath the writing. This isn't quite so regal and glorious, mind you, but there is a far stronger sense of sadness suffused over the material. The listener gets a real feeling of ages creeping past, of civilizations risen and then fallen, as if one were to watch the gradual settling of Atlantis to the floor of the ocean, forgotten by all but legends...
As I hinted there, the actual mix of the debut is a bit lacking, not so much that it hinders the clarity of the music or the ultimate enjoyment of its contents, but just enough to give a slight air of amateurism. In fact, Temple of the Lost Race sounds to me superior, even if the actual songs are not. That said, its weighty and moody enough to appreciate despite this mild setback, and its in fine company with other Greek masterworks like Scarlet Evil Witching Black or Thy Mighty Contract, both of which have production values that many would scoff at. Actually, a better parallel would be drawn to the Nightfall sophomore, Macabre Sunsets, but that's chunkier and more annoying than Mystic Places. All told, though, the songwriting is consistently impressive, and Septic Flesh amply proved their importance as one of the finer atmospheric death metal acts the world over. To think that this isn't even their best...
Septic Flesh is a strange sounding band emerging from Greece. Their sound wasn't centrally impactful on the other bands as a whole. But follows somewhat in suit of other notable acts. Where front runner Rotting Christ changed musical directions a few times, from the extremes of grind to death and then incorporating a more melodic black metal sound around the early nineties. As well as Varathron went from a death-thrash sounding act in the late 80's/early 90's to a more melodic entity as time moved on as well. Septic Flesh's 1994 debut finds its way right after some seminal releases. Maintaining a melodic dark death metal sound. Taking hints from Rotting Christ by incorporated subtle dramatic keyboards. And similar in concept to Varathron, having instrumentally melodic music, with a deep, hideously ugly sounding vocalist.
Mystic Places of Dawn is similar and at the same time separated in my opinion compared to the previously mentioned bands. Although, one characteristic is notorious for some early 90's Storm Studios bands: the guitarist and drummer quota was insanely lopsided. Since Mystic Places incorporates a drum machine or electronic drum set. Or maybe there was just a lack of rehearsal space? On the other hand, the riffs are quite memorably written. They typically use very high noted reverbed out, almost lead-like tremolo guitar lines. The style of a typical riff is almost played in the same spot on the neck of the guitar, in a back in forth tremolo pattern. As well as the occasional palm mute on certain guitar lines. Sometimes they use this as a technique to connect one riff to another. Like a spaced out "deh, deh", to go from a slower section to a faster section. The guitars also extend to low regions, and sometimes for changeability will accent these lower riffs with quick tremolo high notes. Throughout the album there are plenty of fitting solos. As well as the occasional reverbed out clean guitar with a watery effect for highlights. The bass guitar is only there to add bass. And there aren't too many stray bass lines compared to lead-like guitar riffs. Although, a cool addition in the beginning of the first track, the music stops completely except for the bass, where it does a quick little solo. The music is also accented by the vocals. His vocals are very deep sounding, somewhat comparative to a throaty growl. It is a strange addition. Because the music can be quite melodic, and his vocals at points match and at other points don't. Basically, they are mismatched in intensity levels some of the time. However, during the faster sections, his bellows do give off a dark aura mixed with the spacy back and forth guitar lines and blazing drums.
A lot of the structures of the songs vary. Giving you many different versatilities throughout the album. Mystic Places of Dawn has plenty of faster, blast beat laden sections mixed in with mid-paced and slower melodic pieces. The song placements amongst each other are slightly patterned as well. Giving you slower melodic songs and then the next song might move with much more intensity and be mainly fast. Like the transition of 'Chasing the Chimera' and then the faster song 'Behind the Iron Mask'. Which explodes into a 3 minute speeding bullet with hardly even a build up riff. I'm glad they did it this way. Because some bands tend to put their best song first, or faster and more intense song first. Then move to slower sections for a while with the remaining pieces. Another words, if you rearranged Mystic's song placements, it would possibly sound like a completely different record. Another example of these versatilities is on the track (Morpheus) The Dreamlord, it is a varied melodic combo of slower paced metal more than half the song, and then after a short climatic moment they add a drastic volcanic eruption towards the end of the song. Literally coming out of nowhere with inhuman-like blasts; lower and higher screamed vocals, for a quick change; as well as a subsonic, explosively played guitar solo, when compared to the other more slower melodic leads. The song Mythos is a pure instrumental, and a detachment from metal completely. Having a driving piano played with other more dramatic effects, such as horns and other varied instruments. It sounds like it came from an emotional movie score about Greece. However, it fits right in with the other songs.
When comparing Septic Flesh's debut to other early nineties Greek acts: it wasn't the whole puzzle but a decent sized puzzle piece of the whole picture. Because their sound as a whole is quite different at times. It does however have the same production values as Rotting Christ's debut and Varathron, with synthetic drums. As well as a close reminder of the concept Varathron has, mixing melodic melodies and harsh deep vocals. But at the same time, the construction of Mystic Places of Dawn is a fair addition to the CD shelf. It has subtle dramatic keyboards, and dark memorable riffs, as well as leads, which keeps you busy when listening to it. This release is also just shy of an hour. So it is safe to say the musicians took a fair amount of time when building up their debut. The second offering of Septic Flesh's, however, is a little more lax in my opinion. As well as the keyboard arrangements are more of a down play, instead of a raiser of intensity. There are a few other additions that are not desired of their later material as well. That is why I'll stick to mainly listening to Mystic Places of Dawn!