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Isn’t it funny how revisiting certain albums can do wonders? Mystic Places of Dawn is yet another one of those albums that makes me go ‘’What the hell was I thinking?’’ nowadays. I’ve learnt this is some serious good dose of Greek melancholia.
Anyone who has heard Septic Flesh’s demo compilation knows this is a far cry from the rough death metal the band played back then. It’s hard to imagine it really is the same band I’m talking about. Plenty of early extreme metal bands from Greece changed their styles, so why not Septic Flesh though? Nonetheless, it’s an upgrade for the better. One could definitely wonder what the band’s inspiration was while writing this. I suspect Paradise Lost’s Gothic was one as the elegant yet haunting guitar passages express a sense of mysterious melancholy I tend to associate with the more weepy side of doom/death metal. Perhaps the band were also aware of what Horrified were up to – another Greek death metal band that had a very unusual and melodic approach on death metal that had released their debut just one year earlier.
My experience of finally getting Mystic Places of Dawn was sort of challenging and I used to think it was just the title track that had lasting power but what a song it is! It’s got a fantastic contrast between heroic verses and a moving chorus that is backed up by some bleak guitar leads. They sound very early Paradise Lost inspired and I’m glad Septic Flesh not only have great music taste themselves but also have a good ear for melody. Fortunately the band never forget that they’re a death metal band. As expected the shortest songs on here are the most straightforward. ‘’Behind the Iron Mask’’ is highly tremolo riff-oriented and therefore more chaotic and tense than the rest of the tunes here. Longer tunes have more room for experimentation but never turn into any over ambitious experiment. Take ‘’The Underwater Garden’’ for instance, with its awe inspiring contrast between soft passages of mystique leads and faster riff sections. There are even some cryptic violin passages to be found on ‘’(Morpheus) The Dreamlord’’ that work very well before the song progresses into some death metal blasting for a while. The only track I could do without, would be the instrumental ‘’Mythos’’ which to me just misses the mark. It might have worked as an intro piece, had it been shorter though.
Songwriting aside, I’ll admit I had to warm up to the production which sounds a bit cheap. The guitars sound a bit murky and lack some punch while the gurgling growls come off slightly loud in the mix somewhat. The drums sound a bit all over the place at times as well, but that’s most likely to be expected by using a drum machine. Overall the poor sound is something I’ve gotten used to by now and I hope you will too, as Mystic Places of Dawn is one hell of an experience that you don’t want to miss.
Now this album will always hold a special place in my heart. Seriously these guys were so great that even their first album stood out from the pack. Perhaps one of the first albums to bear the title of “symphonic death metal” and actually mean it 100%, that too all the way back in 1994. Of course, the album is more than just that, but I’ll get back to you about that later on in the review. Make no mistake, even back then there were bands like Emperor and Cradle Of Filth that had just started out bearing the symphonic metal tag, but neither bands really ventured far out into uncharted and experimental waters as much as Septic Flesh did, at least in my opinion. While their later albums operate on the same template, they deviate more into orchestral swells of music amongst the savage death metal riffing whereas their debut opts for a more mid-paced gloom-laden doomy attack in comparison to their later (read, post Sumerian Daemons) works. And seriously look at that damn cover! Masterful indeed. With the exception of probably Nocturnus, I can’t seem to recall any other band at the time that incorporated keys into a death metal template with such effortless mastery.
What people might have an instant beef about is the production. It’s raw, but not in that Mayhem sense that you really have to struggle to differentiate between the riffs, but more in that lava oozing type of way that the riffs effortlessly flow from one section to the other with the haunting synths and piano layering an ancient/primordial atmosphere painting a fascinating picture of some of the earliest civilizations and their conquests. Yes believe it or not, this album does have that effect. Just listen to that amazing solo in “Pale Beauty Of The Past” with those echoing guitars in the background and tell me if I’m wrong. Or even the intro of “Crescent Moon”, 4:44 of “The Underwater Garden” and the outro of “Chasing The Chimera” in that case. Truly amazing to find a band with the songwriting and atmosphere on such a high level that almost no band back then could match up. The synths and piano will flow over the guitars and fade away when you least expect it, which is the perfect indication of a band that really knows what it’s doing and fucking aces it, that too on the debut. And my word, the keys in “Mythos” are just otherworldly with an unbelievably amazing arrangement of synth-laden beauty that most other bands of the genre can only dream of composing. Truly stunning. Equally amazing are the guitars that find a superb balance between the heavy riffs, (and believe me, there are a lot of them) epic harmonized leads and the haunting ambiance of the clean picking bits. But what will wow you the most is how expertly arranged the entire album is, with every keyboard line, piano run and guitar riff/lick having its own perfect place in this puzzle of a masterpiece.
The main point about this album is that there is just so much diversity with the keys, guitars and piano always changing it up and doing something interesting not to mention the almost orchestral arrangement of most of the songs, that Mystic Places Of Dawn actually ends up transcending its own genre tag. With elements of doom, progressive metal, melodeath and black metal, clearly this album is so much more than just the generic tag of “symphonic death metal”. Now that is truly the mark of a classic and a direly underrated one at that. “Behind the Iron Mask” is the only song having a pure dose of death metal aggression with very little of the experimentation of the other tracks. Probably the only fast-paced song from start to finish.
Highlights: every single song! The two words I would use to describe this masterpiece are mystical and wondrous. If you’re looking for challenging innovative metal that isn’t afraid to take risks and experiment every step of the way, then this album is most certainly for you. One of the few albums out there that lives up to the saying of “greater the risk, the greater the reward”. You have to spend a good amount of time, absorb it and let the music take you on an ethereal journey back in time. No matter what genre of metal you claim to listen to, if you call yourself an open minded listener, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album in whichever way possible.
The year of 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of "Mystic Places of Dawn" by Septicflesh. The Greeks have gained a lot of popularity lately with their last releases mixing death metal and symphonic elements. While albums like "The Great Mass" and "Titan" are bombastic by nature, "Mystic Places of Dawn" offers the listener a more introspective and dreamy experience. It is important to note that the year of 1994 had a huge number of very important releases: "Tales from the Thousand Lakes", "The Principle of Evil Made Flesh", "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas", "In the Nightside Eclipse", "Transilvanian Hunger" and many others that have helped define what extreme metal is all about And, in all honesty, "Mystic Places of Dawn" is right up there with those titles as one of the best metal albums of all time.
Those unfamiliar with the old Septicflesh might not even recognize Seth's vocals. The low growls, while not the most unique, are used in such a way that makes every song memorable, there's a distinct cadence to them in every song - from the ferocious delivery of "Return to Carthage" to the slow and doomy "Chasing the Chimera".
One of the debut's strongest points are the guitars. There's always something interesting happening, the starting riff on "The Underwater Garden" is the perfect prelude for a travel deep down the vast depths of the oceans, but the song doesn't get boring at any point, with a great tempo change at the 3 minute mark. The song is a good example of what Septicflesh can achieve. Paired with the keyboards, always being highlighted at the right time, they create the perfect atmosphere. The same can be said about the lyrics, as they paint vivid, yet melancholic pictures of a number of themes such as the unknown, happiness and sadness, historical events, mysteries and mythology.
The production, on the other hand, leaves to be desired, but it is something to be expected from a debut and the quality of the production only increased with each subsequent release from the Greeks. While it does affect the album quality, there's nothing incredibly complex about this album that gets lost in the mix. The drum machine does a competent job, meaning you can easily tolerate it even if you're not a big fan of this type of thing, of course, having a real drummer like Fotis Bernardo would be even better.
Mystic Places of Dawn stands the test of time, keeping its beautiful simplicity intact even when compared to the great titles released around the same time. Septicflesh has changed a lot especially after "The Ophidian Wheel", leaving the doom/gothic influences behind to explore the industrial side of things with "Revolution DNA" and "Sumerian Demons," and then changed their focus to symphonic death metal, starting with "Communion" and reaching their peak with "The Great Mass." However, even if you prefer a clean production and a symphonic influenced sound with multiple layers, Mystic Places of Dawn is still a must listen to any fan of extreme music in general. Give it a chance and be hypnotized by all the sealed emotions contained in this album.
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!