(In this post DGR reviews the debut album by Forever Dawn — the serious musical project of The Vegan Black Metal Chef.)
This is a review that has been a long time coming. Recently it’s probably the one that has been weighing on my mind the most, considering that I’ve consistently had the Bandcamp page for it open since finding it two weeks after the disc came out. I think by the time this poor thing is published, I will have deleted and restarted it close to ten times — in part because I wasn’t sure how to approach this release, wondering if I was paying it enough respect or even capable of analyzing its deeper value or whether it was worth listening to.
In part it has also taken some serious time to get my teeth into and be able to talk about because trying to pin it down to one genre is incredibly difficult; I want to make the argument that tagging it as just Industrial Black Metal feels wrong, but I don’t want to launch into some four-paragraph screed about what those words mean to me, given that genrification is already pretty goddamned subjective, without talking about the release as a whole beforehand.
But enough of the lengthy preamble, just what the fuck are we looking at here?
Forever Dawn is the solo project of Brian Manowitz — nee, The Vegan Black Metal Chef — and it is his more serious take on music, albeit with its own fair bit of camp attached to it, mostly due to some fairly geek-culture-heavy references buried within the music. I’ve long felt that the best sort of Parody musicians are the ones who have a huge love of the music they are making fun of, the ones who have been listening to their chosen genre for so long that they know the way it works, the way it lives and breathes, the people so hyper-aware of everything surrounding the music that they can be self-depreciating enough to admit how ridiculous it is.
That has largely been the key to why something like the Vegan Black Metal Chef works. As a musician, Brian has been playing with black and death metal long enough to be able to amp up the right elements of silliness without boiling it down into some third-person maudlin experience of “look at these folk and the hoodoo they do”. Not only that, but the backing music in his videos has actually been pretty good, good enough for the man to sell it.
It’s because of his longstanding experience with music and his willingness to take something like Vegan Black Metal Chef to 110% without letting it fall into the obvious “This was a stupid idea we had while drunk” territory that I get to write sentences like,”Believe it or not, but there’s actually a Lasagna recipe out there with a pretty sick guitar part to it”.
Of course, these are also the sorts of acts where you know, just know, that if the perpetrators were to ever devote themselves to a more serious venture, they would be incredibly good at it. They’ve proven they can take the novelty part of it and make it approachable for serious music fans, and you get the sense that if they were to ever go beyond their chosen act and jump headlong into full musician mode, they would just kill it. Such is the case with Forever Dawn.
The Long Journey Home, released way back in the bygone era of January, stands at fourteen tracks of one-man black metal, employing as many different instruments available to him as he could make possible. In part, Brian plays heavily with his electronic sensibilities, giving certain songs some distorted drum samples and others the various bells, whistles, bleeps, and pile-driving sound effects that you might hear on a more straightforward industrial disc. It lends a machine-like sensibility to the fact that most of this disc is him at the helm, bending a variety of different computers to his will.
On the other hand, although I’ve raised the spectre of this being an industrial album, it’s never enough to fully offend someone who might want the album to stick to the more traditional gathering of instruments. Most of The Long Journey Home is actually a fairly approachable bit of symphonic black in the vein of something like Death Cult Armageddon-era Dimmu Borgir — hell, Brian’s blackened croak falling in line with Immortal’s Abbath and his deathgrowl being in line with Shagrath’s has caused me to do a pretty hard double-take more than once. I’ll be sending the bill from my chiropractor here soon.
The chosen subject matter for much of The Long Journey Home is actually very Amon Amarth in its sensibilities. Most of the songs here deal with one of three subjects: battles, battling, and the results of battle. Hell, the album’s title feels like the return after some sort of epic battle. Given that this is battle music at its most warlike, many of the songs contain sweeping guitar parts and orchestration, much of the music moving at a grand pace and bobbing like waves crashing at the shore, no subtlety allowed. There are even quite a few choruses spread across the disc that sound like martial chants.
“Maelstrom” starts the album off with a pretty large bang as it drops this massive weight of seemingly every instrument involved on this disc landing on you at once, condensed into one huge block of sound and moving at top speed. Everything on The Long Journey Home feels like a labor of love though, as it is clearly one man stretching himself as far as he can go and bending and twisting to make everything work — which means that yes, the orchestration is clearly of the synth variety, but he makes it work throughout the disc without it sounding knock-kneed and half-assed.
The industrial side of things usually breaks into one of two pretty small camps, one being distorted drum samples and the other being effects that work their way into the start of each musical measure. The pings and bangs that you might otherwise relate to a post hole being dug or a machine falling apart work well here, partly because of the heavy focus on the warlike subject matter and what has war been, other than a testing ground for our machines and how quickly we can make them destroy ourselves as a species.
Long Journey Home has a futuristic aesthetic, with its minimalist artwork looking as if it had been lifted right from a computer chip, so one can only imagine how close we’re getting to Terminator-level battlefields across many of the songs. The drumming on this album has that very militaristic and programmed-feeling precision, even with the static and crashing on top of all of it. The drum hits are tailor-made to sound like shell impacts on the ground, with every snare hit leaving a crater behind. Since the bass drum is usually set at top speed and rolling, it takes on the air of a tank rumbling over the music behind it.
Since much of the music sweeps back and forth, much of it is fairly mid-tempo which is one of the few marks that I could have against it. Some of the music tends to stretch just a little too long. There is a vast wealth of material available here, and with such a huge vault of material to be mined, it feels like not much was left behind. One of the things I do love, though, is the idea and song title of “Blood For The Blood God”, which is a giant walking Warhammer reference if I’ve ever seen one. If there were any album well-suited for a song like that — since Bolt Thrower aren’t doing much except coasting on that sweet, sweet live cash — then it would be this disc. Skulls for the skull throne and such.
What The Long Journey Home crafts is a vision of apocalyptic battlefields and the wars that tore them asunder. Forever Dawn is a project with a lot of vitality, and if Brian chooses to go forward with it beyond this disc, and to explore further his ideas of futuristic warfare, then surely it will be worth the time. This is an album whose ideas don’t feel like half-baked at all. Instead, it is one that shows not only that he is a capable musician beyond his act as a chef, but also (as described on my theory above) a musician so hyper-aware of how his chosen music genre works that he knows how it breathes and moves, and how to write within it, so that at the very least what comes out will be “good”.
Long Journey Home bounces between moments of that and being pretty goddamned exciting. The industrial elements are a nice touch, but they left me wanting something more intense and abrasive, whereas the symphonic moments fit perfectly and so well that you privately hope, one day, that the musician will have the budget to bring in a full orchestra — because goddamn, could they do some damage then.
As it stands right now, though, Long Journey Home is a solid first step that feels like it has been a long time coming, filled to the brim with fire, destruction, and suffering that leaves the listener feeling victorious just by managing to make it through to the final motif of the last song.