Sound — 9
Despite - or perhaps in spite - of Finland being the neighboring country of Sweden, Finland's roster of melodeath bands are more or less eclipsed by their roster of power metal bands. Nonetheless, this doesn't stop Finland's melodeathers short of face-melting quality, and a key example of this is the lesser-cited Mors Principium Est. Forming in 1999, their lineup would continue to shift about before signing with Listenable Records to release their first three albums: "Inhumanity" in 2003, "The Unborn" in 2005, and "Liberation = Termination" in 2007.
It was after the third album that the band's lineup would start to shift again, for the worse. Founding guitarist Jori Haukio left after the album was complete, and the other founding guitarist Jarkko Kokko would leave in 2009. As Mors Principium Est continued on, no longer signed with Listenable Records and only being able to fill in the holes of their lineup temporarily, the possibility of total disbandment was looming. It wasn't until 2011 when a pair of Andys (well, technically one of them is named "Andhe") would become the new permanent guitarists for the band, allowing Mors Principium Est to release their anticipated fourth album, aptly named "...And Death Said Live," properly getting the band back in healthy status.
Now riding the wave of regained momentum, Mors Principium Est have released their fifth album, "Dawn of the 5th Era," which shows the band continuing to fire on all cylinders instrumentally. The new guitarists prove to be just as good - if not better - than the band's original guitarists yet again - providing frenetic and tricky melodeath riffs in "God Has Fallen," "Leader of the Titans," "We Are the Sleep," and the buffet-sized variety of riffs in "Monster in Me," dazzling tapping activity in "I Am War" and "Wrath of Indra," and great guitar soloing in nearly every song (with the most impressive bouts in "Innocence Lost," "Apricity," "The Journey" and "The Forsaken"). And though it's tough to pay attention to anything other than the guitar-work, the drums are still as skillful and relentless as can be throughout, and even the bass gets to shine a bit melodically in "We Are the Sleep," "Apricity" and "The Forsaken."
The level of instrumental skill displayed here is enough to push the album above the run-of-the-mill melodeath, but what helps "Dawn of the 5th Era" even further are the nuances in style found throughout: Blastbeat and tremolo sections give "God Has Fallen" and "The Journey" a blackened feel to them; the bursting chugs of paired with the righteous lead guitar in "I Am War" feels more power-metaly than melodeathy; and the addition of piano and string melodies in "Monster in Me," "Apricity" and "The Forsaken" provide some symphonic metal-oriented moments for the album. They thread the needle between good and evil well in "Innocence Lost," where the gothy melodeath lines are juxtaposed with a triumphant chorus melody. And whether you hate it or love it, they bring back the polarizing touch of jarring electronica in the opening of "We Are the Sleep," but those that wretch every time Mors Principium Est practice that blend should be relieved to know that that's the only moment of it on the album.
Lyrics — 8
Like Mors Principium Est's other albums, there's a hodgepodge of themes in the lyrics of "Dawn of the 5th Era." As expected, there are plenty of mythology-oriented lyrics, but frontman Ville Viljanen doesn't limit himself to one canon - he paints the dystopia of Christian deicide beckoning the apocalypse in "God Has Fallen," then hops into Greek mythology to tell a story about Cronus in "Leader of the Titans," then draws from the less-common well of Hindu mythology in "Wrath of Indra." There's also a fair amount of war-oriented matter found throughout; from the imagery of men amassing under banners in "Innocence Lost," to Viljanen's direct assumption into the omniscient role of war itself in "I Am War," detailing all of the atrocities that come in effect from it.
The most interesting lyric cases in the album, however, are the ones that make callbacks to previous Mors Principium Est songs. The rare occasion of sci-fi-oriented material in the otherworldly setting of "The Journey" heavily alludes a callback to the "Liberation = Termination" song "The Distance Between" - the main character back then was venturing to Mars and depressed about the loneliness of space and the possibility of never making it to his destination, but now, he's made it to Mars, though he's still depressed about never being able to go back to Earth. "Monster in Me" also seems to continue a story first established in "Liberation = Termination," being a sequel to "Terminal Liberation." First establishing a character that was exuberant in slaying his enemies in "Terminal Liberation," "Monster in Me" now shows that character afflicted with debilitating PTSD from those experiences, haunted by those same faces he once took joy in killing.
Overall Impression — 9
As Mors Principium Est's previous album, "...And Death Said Live," only had to accomplish proving that the new lineup was just as capable as the band's old one, "Dawn of the 5th Era" had to strive to be more than just a big showcase of instrumental acrobatics. By shading in different songs with different styles, "Dawn of the 5th Era" hits the sweet spot between wielding the band's strong suits and avoiding a gutter of being self-derivative; which is very important, seeing as plenty of melodeath bands have ushered their own undoing by adhering to a paint-by-numbers kind of songwriting after a while. Though you can figure that Mors Principium Est are happy enough to still be a functioning band, it must be doubly satisfying for them to know that they're not only back, but better than ever.