(Andy Synn reviews the new album by the UK’s Dawn Ray’d, which will be released on October 2nd.)
Despite what some people might have you believe, Black Metal is not, nor has it ever really been, a monolith.
In fact if you look back at the early days of the scene, and in particular those responsible for laying its foundations, you’ll quickly become aware of the variety of personalities, approaches, and opinions which, collectively, contributed to the genesis of the nascent genre, while also planting the seeds for the variety of different styles and sub-genres to come.
Of course while the guiding principle of Black Metal may well be “do what thou will”, this doesn’t mean you can claim that anything is Black Metal. There are certain markers you still need to hit, certain rules you might say, that apply even here.
But within these (relatively loose) confines you’ll find a world of different approaches, different beliefs, different ideologies – from nihilism to humanism, asceticism to Satanism – all clashing and coalescing in a tumultuous display of pure passion and unflinching intensity.
Which is why, regardless of what you might think about their personalities or their politics, I have little hesitation in declaring The Unlawful Assembly to be one of the best Black Metal albums of the year.
Simply put, at its core there is a real fire and fury to this album, one that’s impossible to ignore or deny, which practically erupts out of your speakers the moment that the aptly named “Fire Sermon” explodes into raging, rampaging life.
The riffs are molten, yet also demonstrate a flair for chilling melody, juxtaposing fire and ice in a way that a certain corpulent procrastinator could certainly learn a few things from, while the drums unleash a whirling dervish of blazing blastbeats and bone-rattling fills, intermingled here and there with moments of solemnity and restraint which serve to add both colour and contrast to the band’s vigorous assault upon the senses.
Atop it all the vocals of Simon Barr (who also provides interjections of moody, meditative melody via the weeping strings of his violin) spit bile and brimstone in equal measure, screeching out these self-described “battle hymns for the coming class war” with all the venomous aggression and righteous indignation of a man more than willing to stand by the courage of his convictions.
From the madcap melodic menace of “The Abyssal Plain” and the grim ‘n’ gritty gallop of “Emptiness Beneath the Great Emptiness”, through to the seething “Held In a Lunar Synthesis” and the gloriously grandiose “Strike Again the Hammer Sings!”, Dawn Ray’d display a gift for fusing ravenous Black Metal and archaic, folkish melody into something more than the mere sum of its parts, culminating in the stirring strains of the brilliantly-titled “Island of Cannibal Horses”, perhaps the band’s finest moment in their career thus far.
Of course as cathartic and captivating an experience as The Unlawful Assembly is, there are a few minor issues which prevent it from receiving a perfect score (not that we do numerical scores here at NCS, but… you get the idea).
For one thing the complete absence of bass (the band record and perform as a trio entirely sans bassist), while not a dealbreaker, is certainly noticeable, and may occasionally leave the listener with the nagging feeling that something is missing, even if they can’t necessarily put their finger on exactly what that something is.
A bigger issue however is the group’s use of clean vocals on “A Litany of Cowards” and “A Thought, Ablaze”.
It’s not that Barr has a terrible voice – his singing is certainly serviceable enough – however the melodies he chooses/uses come across as rather flat and unremarkable when compared to practically every other element of the album.
Despite what the site’s name might suggest, I’m not anti-clean singing in Metal (far from it, in fact). But it’s difficult to drum up any real enthusiasm in this particular case when the vocals are delivered in such a listless and ultimately forgettable manner.
In the grand scheme of things however, these criticisms – whose validity you’re free to agree/disagree with as you choose – apply to only a small percentage of the overall album, and shouldn’t in any way dissuade you from picking up a copy of The Unlawful Assembly, particularly if you’re after a dose of truly vital and visceral Black Metal that simultaneously embraces and challenges convention.
The Unlawful Assembly can be pre- ordered now at Bandcamp. And the album can currently be streamed in full over at Noisey.