On the sound of the album, the group commented, "We realised we had been limiting our musical visions [before], relying around guitar, bass and drums. These instruments weren't adequate to express a lot of the things we were hearing". On the making of the album, 4AD label owner Ivo Watts-Russell commented, "I think the relationship between them and [producer] John Rivers was at its peak with [Within the Realm of a Dying Sun]. It's probably my favourite record of theirs".
Gerrard's vocals featured prominently on the second half of the album, and her singing style often had mellifluous oriental overtones, especially on "Cantara".