What can a black-metal band do to break out? As in, properly break out; not just get outside of some underground metal Facebook group with about half-a-dozen followers. Well, if historical trends are any indication, an easy answer is ‘do anything but black-metal’. After all, you only have to look at Deafheaven, who’ve become the poster-boys for the genre on a macro scale thanks to brighter textures and shoegaze elements that make them a lot more palatable and approachable for an unfamiliar audience. And that sort of diversification isn’t exactly a bad thing, regardless of what the trve cvltists have to say. In a genre like black-metal that’s naturally hostile and anti-social (sometimes to a… discriminatory degree), you’re not going to get huge swell right off the bat, so widening your cast to encompass more sounds and ideas makes a lot of sense.
So in the case of Dawn Ray’d, they’ve basically made a folk album. Okay, that’s way too reductive for what To Know The Light actually is, but if you’re going to zero in on a territory that’s being claimed more than any other, it’d probably be that. In a lot of the textures and embellishments (and especially the politics), Dawn Ray’d channel that ground-level, earthen sensibility, and proceed to scorch it as only black-metal can.
The result is an album with a lot of layers packed into it, and throughout, Dawn Ray’d feel as though they’re equipped for basically all of them. Outside of a bit of muddy production right at the start—albeit not exactly egregious in the stakes of black-metal—there’s such a certainty in how to go about arranging what’s a rather unorthodox fusion. Of course, folk and black-metal aren’t unfamiliar bedfellows, but it’s different here. It’s most obvious on Requital and Freedom In Retrograde, the former as a haunted, quaking a capella number while the latter trudges through shambling folk dirges dressed in ear-catching melancholy. They’re fascinating pivots, almost removed from metal entirely if it wasn’t for a tone that remains transfixed with the gaping void in front of their eyes.
That tone is probably Dawn Ray’d’s strongest quality on To Know The Light, in fact, because they’re so deeply ingrained in it. The usual tricks of the black-metal trade allow it to come naturally; tremolo riffing and torrents of blastbeats come together in an expectedly oppressive cocktail, topped off by Simon Barr’s animalistic snarl that’s surprisingly tightened up through some much-appreciated legibility in his delivery. Even just in the pure basics of the genre, Dawn Ray’d have a lot working for them, and it’s only improved further when they add more. Strings and horns will adorn much of the album, but not for a feeling of pomp or grandiosity. Instead, they’re baleful and morose, as lone violins squeal through among the oppressive maelstrom, or In The Shadow Of The Past bears clean slices of saxophone for some added bitterness.
It’s a great sound that Dawn Ray’d get so much mileage from, and really exemplifies the intermingled dread and radicalisation that colours the album’s content. For all the black-metal still happy to stoke the same division and contempt for others that informs the world around it, Dawn Ray’d are the total antidote to that. To Know The Light aims for joy and triumph through anarchy to change a corrupted society, something that Dawn Ray’d sell with truest intent. Thus, the fire-and-brimstone imagery of black-metal is married to scenes of urban decay and grassroots action. Sepulchre (Don’t Vote) decries belief that any kind of government will actually make a meaningful change, while The Battle Of Sudden Flame’s turbo-charged assertion “Fuck every copper that ever took a wage / Every blue bastard with his baton raised / A beast that even his master hates / Only a coward fights for the state” sets the stage for what’s to come rather resolutely.
As far as black-metal goes (or really, anything on metal’s more extreme ends), Dawn Ray’d easily stand up as one of the more invigorating bands around right now. Sonically diverse in a way that makes sense and doesn’t impede on their pitch-black brutality, there’s a captivating element around this band that’s almost impossible to look away from. And when that’s all contained and concentrated on To Know The Light, it’s the best possible outcome. Maybe it’s not quite the same cheat code for crossover success like Deafheaven already perfected, but with any luck, an album like this will make sure you won’t forget the name Dawn Ray’d in a hurry.
For fans of: Wolves In The Throne Room, Panopticon, Crass
‘To Know The Light’ by Dawn Ray’d is released on 24th March on Prosthetic Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall