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Muddled brilliance - 73%

robotiq, December 28th, 2020

Pan.Thy.Monium were the most progressive death metal band of their time, maybe of all time. They were the only death metal band from the early 1990s to qualify as 'avant-garde'. They were the only band from the scene to experiment with free jazz saxophone, and one of few to use keyboards to this extent. Their music had a spontaneity and freedom that probably came from Dan Swanö's presence. As a budding producer, I presume he had access to good quality studio equipment and studio time, removing some of the logistical difficulties that plague most bands.

The band made one line-up change between their previous recordings and this debut album. Swanö enlisted the help of his elder brother Dag (credited here as Äag); a multi-instrumentalist with considerable talent. As a guitarist, he is comfortable with non-metal styles such as jazz and funk. His soloing is distinct from (and superior to) most metal players. He doesn't 'shred' in the traditional metal sense. He concentrates on playing clean notes, almost like someone who has listened to too much Steely Dan. As a saxophonist, he demonstrates an interest in avant-garde and free jazz. I presume he was inspired by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler to an extent. His contribution to Pan.Thy.Monium was significant.

The band's experimentation is clearest on the album's first track, a 22 minute song that swallows half the album. Dag begins with a wobbly saxophone intro. Within a minute, he has embarked on an impeccable guitar solo before giving way to his brother's moody keyboard melodies. The song maintains a sinister, mystic momentum until 8:10, but then it drifts. The rest of the song is a series of moments. Brilliant things happen; Dag's second solo, more saxophone, some superb blast-beats over clean guitar, but it sounds more like a medley than a song. It doesn’t have the breeziness of proper jazz, where musicians tend to wander off-piste and return to a central melodic refrain. It also lacks the freedom of avant-garde improvised acts (such as Faust). The track doesn't work as a whole, but it shows how far Pan.Thy.Monium are willing to go.

The remaining tracks vary in their effectiveness. Some revisit the death/doom vibe of their demo (Track #5 originally appeared on the demo). Track #2 is an unapologetic blend of Sabbath and Candlemass riffs, one of which sounds like the main riff from "Into the Void". The outro is a reworked version of the outro from the demo. It indicates what the band might have sounded like if they had used saxophone to augment crushing, repetitive chords, similar to the dub/metal/jazz soundscapes of Scorn or Bill Laswell. Track #6 is the most exciting song and it blends grindcore, explosive saxophone, keyboards and the grooviest death metal riffs. Track #3 is awful, with an irritating melodic hook that would fit better on a lounge/hip-hop record than on a death metal one.

Experimental music is inconsistent by nature. Some experiments succeed, others fail. This makes a cluttered, uneven yet interesting album with moments of genius. There are better, more consistent progressive death metal records from the time ("Ashore the Celestial Burden", "Prodigal Sun"), but Pan.Thy.Monium reached deeper into the experimental void. "Dawn of Dreams" is no masterpiece, I prefer the tighter "Dream II" EP, but this album is too good to ignore.