(Here’s DGR‘s review of the comeback album by Finland’s Before the Dawn, which Napalm Records released at the end of June.)
When you follow music for a long time there are bands that after a while you figure are well and truly done — even though this is proving to be less of the case year by year — their logical conclusion reached or the fuel behind that particular project redirected into other forms.
When it came to Before The Dawn, it seemed like all of the energy driving the band had been redirected well into other directions when the group finally hung up its hat. Tuomas Saukkonen had multiple projects going at that point, and after Rise Of The Phoenix — which honestly is starting to feel more and more like invoking a curse, since naming your album something after a phoenix following a drastic lineup shift almost seems to doom future endeavors — closed up shop on nearly everything he had going and folded it into what would become Wolfheart.
However, after returning with Dawn Of Solace — another project that would’ve figured to be wrapped — in January of 2022, it seemed like the embers for all of those earlier projects hadn’t quite burned out like we thought.
Before The Dawn had previously returned with a single named “Final Storm“, done in part for a re-issue of their Deadlight album in 2021. But after that, one would’ve concluded, “Okay, now Before The Dawn is wrapped up” – yet that status of the group remained nebulous until September 2022 when they released a new single named “Downhearted” and unveiled a new person, Paavo Laapotti, taking up the vocalist role. And then, nearly ten months later at the tail end of June, the group would release a new album named Stormbringers.
Of course, eleven years between albums is a long time – that’s more than a Scar Symmetry hiatus! – and it is almost enough time that you could effectively re-launch a group from the ground up, as if you were completely starting over, which it seems in some ways is what Before The Dawn intend to do.
One of the defining aspects of Before The Dawn‘s formula over the years became the harsh and clean vocal interchange, especially when it came to the eventually standard harsh verse/clean chorus songwriting style. It wasn’t until the complete lineup shift in Rise Of The Phoenix that Before The Dawn would break from that sound and go for something much faster than the moodier-melodeath of before and into something almost completely harsh – many of the seeds for what would eventually define Wolfheart‘s sound were planted on that release.
Now it seems Before The Dawn intend to go in the other direction and become almost entirely clean-sung on Stormbringers, creating a vocal opposite of the previous release. It’s also interesting that on Stormbringers, Tuomas seems content to operate in the background, placing a lot of confidence and spotlight on vocalist Paavo to carry the group.
The results, for lack of a better term, are interesting.
Musically, Stormbringers is what you would want from a Before The Dawn return album. The knack for catchy chorus riffs, heavy groove, and glorious melodeath gallop hasn’t left the band one bit, even with the large gap of time between albums. It doesn’t sound dated either, as some return albums are want to do.
There’s a tendency for some bands to turn their returns into oddball time capsules seemingly lifted out of the aether and placed in modern times, but instead what you get with Before The Dawn‘s return on Stormbringers is a modernized take on what the group were doing musically around the time of Deadlight through Deathstar Rising.
“Destroyer” has the classic Before The Dawn guitar lead worming its way throughout the entire song and could easily camp out long enough in your head to qualify for some twisted form of squatter’s rights. It seems that the blast-heavy and folk-driven melodies of an album like Rise Of The Phoenix is receiving its proper exorcism in Wolfheart, leaving a focus on two-step and mid-tempo rhythm riffs that are buttressed by some glorious guitar lead work – especially in a song like “Chains”.
However, it does seem like a lot of your enjoyment of Before The Dawn‘s return is going to come down to how you take to new vocalist Paavo Laapotti‘s singing voice, because he is all over this album. As a vocalist, he has some huge shoes to fill in Before The Dawn, and putting him up-front and center – even in the mix, it seems – is going to make him the focal point of the album.
He gets reedy at times, and throughout the album seems to stretch a little harder than his voice will let him go, as if some of the vocal lines were written for a different singer’s range and he’s trying his damndest to step into that role. More often than not he’s perfectly fine in his role as the group’s clean singer, especially standing in contrast when the dual vocal attack kicks in. Really, the thing that’ll likely throw you for a loop is some of the pronunciation of certain words, because metal is particularly unkind to accents (at least in a non-native tongue), and having to try to sing your way through it just seems like a good way to burn yourself.
On the other hand, though, the dude has a fantastic death metal roar and the handful of times he unleashes that throughout the album are head-turning. Paavo has an infernal bellow that is used sparingly throughout the album and it is one of those that, combined with the times when he is perfectly within his range, lets you see how he landed that lead spot.
Often when we’re talking about newer bands we’re prone to treating some albums as if they were ‘proof of concept’. It’s the band laying out their ideas and showing that, yes, they are capable of executing upon them – often to varying degrees of success, but as a listener you’re okay with it because it’s a group proving themselves.
Weirdly enough, it seems like Before The Dawn have been gone long enough that part of the re-launch phase of the band is that the group are now having to prove themselves again, so there are moments throughout Stormbringers where it does feel a little ‘proof of concept’. The idea is there and the idea is sound, it’s just that now Before The Dawn have to hone in on it and execute.
There are some very, very, VERY, bright flashes of potential throughout Stormbringers and you can see the band quickly re-taking the spot that they vacated all those years ago during the great closing of all of Tuomas‘ projects while he focused on Wolfheart. Stormbringers gets so frustratingly close you almost want to yell at it. As it stands now, it’s a solid collection of ‘pretty good’ singles, coupled with a vocalist who is putting a whole lot of heart into making everything work, and by sheer force pushing the album to ‘almost there’.