Release DetailsLABEL Season of Mist
RELEASED ON 1/22/2013
...the finest attribute of 'Mystic Places of Dawn' is its youthful enthusiasm.
Mystic Places of Dawn
In its roughly two-decades’-long existence, Greece’s Septic Flesh has been unusually restless. The core has (nearly) always been a heavily atmospheric style of death metal, but listening to this reissue of the band’s 1994 debut, Mystic Places of Dawn, alongside albums of theirs as disparate as 1999’s Revolution DNA (which saw Septic Flesh go through the same general sort of clubby goth/new wave turn that afflicted so many other European lights in the late ‘90s - Tiamat, Theatre of Tragedy, Samael, Paradise Lost, and so on), 2003’s lightly industrial-tinged career highpoint Sumerian Daemons, and 2011’s inarguably sophisticated but over-orchestrated The Great Mass illustrates the fundamental malleability of some of extreme metal’s baseline genres. There’s plenty of new skin for the old ceremony.
Septic Flesh’s approach at the time, while still definitely in the realm of death metal, wasn’t universes away from the similarly iconoclastic dark black metal being made by their countrymates in Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia, Thou Art Lord, and so on. You might also draw connections to some of the Swedish death metal bands making generally gloomier music at the time - Gorement or Edge of Sanity, for example.
The album is so long out of print that I don’t have the original with which to compare this remaster. Even after a polishing up, however, this is unmistakably a product of the early '90s. Not helping things is the fact that Mystic Places of Dawn features programmed rather than live drums. Nevertheless, the album is at its best when the focus is on mournful, stately, and often interlocking double leads, or when it uses jarringly odd keyboard settings to massage the atmosphere in directions quite unusual for the death metal of the day. (The opening title track demonstrates both attributes, and “The Underwater Garden” is another highlight for the same reasons.)
Most of the time, the band’s individual chugging riffs are not particularly interesting, so when those riffs recur for extended periods of time (much of “Crescent Moon,” for example), there’s a severe sapping of energy. The vocals are an expressive, snarling growl, but are definitely put way too high in the mix and end up overshadowing the often delicate instrumental interplay.
Ultimately, the finest attribute of Mystic Places of Dawn is its youthful enthusiasm. That probably sounds like a backhanded, passive aggressive way of calling it immature, but that’s not quite what I mean. What I mean is that most of the album’s faults - and there are many - are actually a little charming. Songs are overlong, and generally attempt to stuff too many disparate elements together. But really, there are far worse flaws to have than thinking that more riffs, more transitions, more solos, more keyboard breaks, and more creepy atmospheric touches are awesome. If you’re lucky, restraint and self-editing assert themselves with time. But even so, there’s something uniquely pure about that embryonic stage of a band’s career where the only directions to go are out, up, on, and to who knows where.
Still, when Septic Flesh tries to go hardest, they’re least convincing (see “Return to Carthage” and “Behind the Iron Mask”). The riffs can’t carry the rage they’re supposed to telegraph, and the programmed drums get rubbery during blastbeat workouts. But elsewhere, listen to “(Morpheus) The Dreamlord” to hear Septic Flesh try an absurd number of tricks in a seven-minute song that’s mostly a gothic doom/death trip. The album then closes with a completely overblown two-part piece of Mediterranean neoclassicism, but if nine minutes of synthesized strings, waltzing keys, and thwomping fake timpanis make you shudder, there’s probably a cart down the street where you could find some baklava. This all adds up to some defiantly non-market-tested, non-label-directed, and likely unpopular peculiarity. And that’s great! It just means that what’s really great is the impulse behind the album, rather than the album itself.
(Note: This 2013 reissue also attaches the four-song Temple of the Lost Race EP from 1991. The songs are slightly more rudimentary, and quite close to what bands like Therion and Tiamat were doing around the same time. Nevertheless, the sound here is much better than on the Mystic Places album, in large part due to the presence of a human drummer on the earlier EP. On the whole, these four songs - which add an additional twenty-one minutes of bonus content to this reissue - probably more than double the ass-kicking quotient of the proceedings. Even though the EP’s title track foreshadows the more complex arrangements in which the band would indulge on the debut full-length, it remains infinitely more convincing as a death metal song. I guess sometimes you have to go back to go forward.)