The Unlawful Assembly
2nd October 2017 – Halo of Flies Records/ Feast of Tentacles Records
01. Fire Sermon
02. The Abyssal Plain
03. Future Perfect Conditional
04. Emptiness Beneath The Great Emptiness
05. A Litany To Cowards
06. The Ceaseless Arbitrary Choice
07. Held In A Lunar Synthesis
08. Strike Again The Hammer Sings
09. Island Of Cannibal Horses
10. A Thought, Ablaze
The latter half of 2017 has been fantastic for black metal. Only a few months ago we got the excellent Dead Woman’s Ditch record, and now Dawn Ray’d have graced us with their long-awaited debut, following the vitriolic A Thorn, A Blight. Engaging though the EP was, it did beg the question of whether they could expand their violin-studded black metal into a full record without it sounding tired or stretched. Fortunately, we’re in luck.
Dawn Ray’d play vital, anthemic black metal with melancholic accents. There’s a clear influence of English folk music and protest songs, both in the tone of the music and the fiery lyrical content, and there’s a kind of lazy comparison to be made to Skyclad, but the tone and execution are much darker and sharper.
The record flits between feral black metal with meandering violin riffs and atmospheric, tightly-wound quieter songs that hiss with venom. Lulls such as “A Litany To Cowards” are no less foreboding than their ferocious counterparts, making excellent use of layered atmospheres, violin melodies and sparse percussion. A stand-out moment is the call-to-arms of “Fire Sermon” – commanding and anthemic, the “light the fires/ gather the stones” refrain is especially stirring.
This record is proof that black metal can be intelligent without flirting with post-metal or shoegaze. Immediately distinctive, Dawn Ray’d have developed a curious blend of styles and have left room for their own quirks, and have done so without coming across as indulgent. There are some stylistic elements that are especially fitting; there’s a really good balance of clean vocals with harsher styles, and it’s good to see that the softer moments are given space to shine.
Dawn Ray’d's politics are essential to their being rather than an aesthetic; their take on black metal is influenced by defiant protest songs as well as being expressed through the lyrics. The resurgence of right-wing black metal is likely to sit uncomfortably for many fans for whom the gulf between the genre’s genesis and it’s present day state is enough to forgive its extreme political leanings. For me, and I’m sure many others, an active voice in opposition to this is something to welcome.
It’d be irresponsible not to mention the radical politics of a band going against the grain in a radical environment, but I want to end on the music; I’m impressed that they’ve taken a high-concept idea and done an excellent job, and I’ve pleased that they’ve developed their sound further since the debut EP. Above all, this record is scrappy and defiant but still accessible; folk protest music was built with solidarity in mind after all.