(Here’s Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the Liverpool-based black metal trio Dawn Ray’d, which will be released on October 25 by Prosthetic Records.)
It’s a bold move for a band to wear their politics loudly and proudly on their sleeves these days.
Actually, scratch that… it’s always been risky for bands to speak openly about their political allegiance, be it left, right, or otherwise, despite Metal’s long history – from “War Pigs” to “Suffer the Children” to “Toxic Garbage Island” – of speaking out against militarism, corruption, and other societal ills.
After all, politics (along with religion) is one of the things that seems to bring out our most tribal instincts, often in the worst possible ways.
The risks for any band are, therefore, quite obvious. The more political you get, and the more polemical you become, the more you risk dividing and alienating your potential audience, and most artists, at some point in their careers, find a way to balance their musical ambitions with what they want to communicate so as to reach as many listeners as possible.
But, of course, where Dawn Ray’d are concerned, such compromise clearly isn’t an option.
That being said, I am going to recommend that we focus here more on the musical than the political aspects of Behold Sedition Plainsong, not because I think the band’s lyrics and ideology are unimportant, or because we need to try and “separate the art from the artist” (we all know how complex and controversial an issue that is), but because I want to avoid falling into the trap of privileging the message over the music, as I’ve seen far too many reviews already this year where bands have been praised more for their passion than their prowess.
Those familiar with Dawn Ray’d’s previous work(s) will be pleased to know that …Plainsong is a natural successor to The Unlawful Assembly, built around the same fundamental elements of guitar, drums, violin, and vocals, and featuring the same blend of visceral Black Metal and vibrant Folk influences.
There have been some changes though, some of which are instantly obvious, some of which are more subtle.
For one thing …Plainsong is much more raw, and arguably even more aggressive, than its predecessor, and the sheer fury underpinning tracks like “The Smell of Ancient Dust” and “Songs in the Key of Compromise” is only enhanced by the increased rawness of the production, which hearkens back to Black Metal’s halcyon early days.
The folk-ish elements are also even better integrated this time around (“A Time For Courage at the Borderlands” being a thrilling example of this), especially the use of acoustic guitar and violin, with the latter instrument in particular coming across more and more as an integral part of the music which (unlike some other bands) continually makes a striking impact without ever dominating or feeling like a gimmick.
But while these changes should be immediately noticeable on first listen, it may take a few more spins of the album to spot some of the more understated alterations and improvements.
For example, although it’s definitely a more aggressive album, …Plainsong is also a much more mournful and melancholy one too, and while this change isn’t as instantly noticeable as some of the others, over time it becomes clear that the band’s use of melody stems from a deep-rooted sense of grief and sorrow at the way of the world.
There’s also an unexpectedly doomy air to some of the songs, most notably “Soon Will Be the Age of Lessons Learnt”, which adds a new and unexpected element to their sound – although perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the close alignment of Doom and Folk over the years.
Not only that, but the clean vocals, while only used on a single track this time around, are delivered with a sense of confidence and moody solemnity which lifts them head and shoulders above anything found on …Assembly, and, in a complete reversal of fortune, help make “A Stone’s Throw” one of the best songs on the record.
Of course …Plainsong isn’t without its flaws (though what album is?).
First off, there’s that album cover, which looks more like the sort of stock image you’d use to advertise your local LARPing group than it does the cover of one of 2019’s most bitter and biting releases, and which represents a major step down from the gloriously evocative artwork which adorned both of the band’s previous records.
Then, on a more serious note, it has to be said that the increased rawness and aggression mentioned above has come at a slight cost in the hooks department, meaning that there’s no song here (although early highlight “To All, To All, To All!” comes very close) as instantly infectious and irresistibly catchy as “Strike Again The Hammer Sings”.
Still, these are relatively minor flaws (the former especially) in the grand scheme of things.
Now, I said at the beginning I didn’t want to harp on too much about the band’s politics and ideology. But it’s impossible to completely divorce the music from its meaning, and I can’t close without pointing out how the band’s unshakeable conviction is a key part of this album’s identity, and that it’s their unwavering integrity which grants their music so much of its intensity.
Not only that, but in the anger and anguish of a song like “Salvation Rite” they’ve found a message – one of rage and frustration set against a backdrop of ecological collapse and calamity – that should resonate with even the most cynical and jaded amongst us.
Rest assured, you don’t have to be an anarchist to listen to Dawn Ray’d (I’m not), but you might just be one after listening to Dawn Ray’d!