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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.