Written by Espi Kvlt
Dawn Ray’d – To Know the Light
> Releasing March 24
> Prosthetic Records
Anyone even slightly familiar with my taste in black metal knows that I place Dawn Ray’d a tier above most other bands. Not just black metal, but specifically RABM. Dawn Ray’d have shown time and time again their commitment to writing black metal songs about anarchism, anti-fascism, and the terror that occurs in our world as a result of the State and violent hatred. Naturally, I leaped on this album when I saw it show up in my inbox, and I listened to it immediately. Dawn Ray’d decided to lean more heavily into the folk metal on this effort, and it works very well within the themes of class struggle. But worry not, there’s still bangers on this thing that sound like their more classic black metal sound.
Opening with “The Battles of Sudden Flame”, the anger and frustration are quickly on display here, with this song that certainly sounds like the Dawn Ray’d you’re used to hearing. Wild blast beats, angry screaming, pummeling guitars, and, of course, Dawn Ray’d’s signature violin are all on display here to pull you in with a sound you’re familiar with. This leads us into a more folky black metal sound with the following song, “Ancient Light”, which, despite still being a mostly black metal song, also has somber moments of quiet reflection, chanting, and slow drumming. Next is “Inferno”, which is a song with such a great beat that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just want to get up and dance. It reminded me a lot of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” in that the beat is fun and memorable, but the lyrics are almost the opposite, speaking of capitalist evils while also bringing forth a moment of optimism – we can defeat them if we stand together.
The true essence of the folk metal direction begins to show itself with the track, “Requital.” Unlike the other songs we’ve heard so far, which had some folk elements but were still largely black metal, this one is an a cappella number where a chorus sings about taking down the rich who hoard the wealth and turning our love for one another into righteous anger against those who keep us down. Despite being an a cappella piece on a black metal album, it perfectly fits among the already-established folk influences. This break is short-lived, however, as we go right back into the blast beats with the next track, “Sepulchre (Don’t Vote)”. With a title I can already get behind and lyrics to match, this song will definitely be one of those things I pass around during the next election cycle instead of ranting yet again. The vocals on this one are especially great, deeper and more frightening than on the ones before. And there’s also an incredible violin solo that left me saying “Okay, so a violin can go hard.”
“Cruel Optimisms” feels like a short reprieve on the album. An interlude-length track with beautiful violin instrumentation and spoken word atop of it, which ends with a sudden crash of raging guitars and drums and leads us into the next track, “In the Shadows of the Past”. While the previous song’s ending made it seem like this song would begin with a similar intensity, it certainly doesn’t, mostly focused again on the violins and sounding like music plucked right from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Around the one-minute mark, however, the thunderous drumming and guitars return, though the violin remains the central focus. A gorgeous melody of a violin-centered metal piece graces our ears, and then more of that same interesting vocal style appears on this track. Super dark, super terrifying, there as so many movements happening in this song that it’s extremely hard to lose your attention or get bored. The vocals and violin are especially the highlights on this one, which is a testament to the talent of Simon Barr, who does both.
The next track on our journey which is slowly winding to a close is a fully acoustic piece titled “Freedom in Retrograde”. Acoustic guitars and clean singing reminded me of waiting outside for punk shows to start as a kid and watching people as they played guitars and belted out lyrics about class warfare and capitalism. The lyric “I believe in freedom for every living thing” hit me especially hard. It was the standout lyric for me on the record, and it’s one I’m going to be singing, along with the rest of this song, for years to come. The penultimate track, “Wild Fire”, seems to pick up where the previous one left off, opening with more of that folky, acoustic sound then rapidly turning into a black metal tornado, which briefly pauses to serenade us with an epic violin and drum duet with more spoken word atop which turns once again into a brutal assault on the senses. This assault ends as quickly as it restarted, however, and the song takes a completely different turn with choral singing over a drum line that leads us into the final song, “Go as Free Companions”, which combines elements from the rest of the album into one powerful, cinematic song. There is hardcore black metal, there is epic folk metal, and there are black metal vocals, clean singing, and spoken word. The album ends on a solemn note that reminds us to walk away with optimism in our hearts and fire in our bellies.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Dawn Ray’d has yet to produce anything less-than-stellar, but To Know the Light feels like a completely different album than what we’re used to, and it feels like a bit of a risk from a band with such a dedicated fanbase and great reviews. Luckily, at least for me, the risk paid off. Much of this album feels like it belongs on the soundtrack of a fantasy movie where peasants are revoting against a fascistic empire. Honestly, as I listened to it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how well it’d fit in Final Fantasy XIV, which also has a tendency to pump me up and remind me that I, no matter how small I feel, can help defeat the corruption that plagues our world.