Dawn Ray’d

To Know The Light

Radical politics arrives on a wave of black metal blast on the latest from Dawn Ray'd

There is nothing in these songs

Of which to be ashamed,

Everything we sing about

I would just as plainly say.

No metal sub-genre is so heavily invested in ‘authenticity’ as black metal is. To be ‘true’, to eschew compromise and to shun popularity in favour of ‘kvlt’ obscurity, is the dream of any number of artists toiling in metaphorical basements across the world. Yet the often fantastic quality of many black metal lyrics, and the heavily stylised aesthetics of band logos, face paint and much else, always threaten to overwhelm trueness with a kitsch performativity that no amount of poorly-recorded cassettes limited to 666 copies can erase.

Dawn Ray’d isn’t playing that game. The short verse above, taken from ‘Wild Fire’ on their new album To Know The Light, offers a very different version of authenticity: Plain (but elegant) speaking, unvarnished truth, anger at the state of the world and the humans who have polluted it; the purity of anarchist refusal, as articulated in ‘Freedom in Retrograde’:

Bodies unremitting

Like waves upon the shore,

You might imprison some of us,

But you’ll never take us all.

Fuck every prison!

And fuck the bastards that puts us in them!

Though I have this creeping feeling

That the dark is closing in,

I still will fight for freedom for every living thing.

But how can one speak plainly in a genre defined by screams, tremolo riffs and blast beasts that can sometimes make deciphering lyrics without a lyric sheet near-impossible? That’s clearly a challenge Dawn Ray’d have been reflecting on, as To Know The Light goes much further than its two predecessors in venturing way beyond the conventions of scream-tremolo-blast. Furious riffology gives way to austere, quasi-neo-folk atmospherics and intonations, sometimes in the midst of a single song, as on ‘Wild Fire’.

This is an album that speaks. The most striking parts of the album are those that are sung, chanted and recited. ‘Cruel Optimisms’, for example, features subtly-arranged strings and acoustic guitars accompanying an intimate spoken meditation, whose final line – “why bother saying it if it’s meaningless, the moment is just that, but also it is everything from this moment long” – is followed by a micro-burst of black metal blast. The album itself ends, on the track ‘Go as Free Companions’, with close harmonies repeating the lines:

The sun still shines,

And it would be a waste

To not only lose tomorrow

But also to lose today

It’s a beautiful ending to an album that is beautifully maudlin and elegantly defiant in equal measure. I do wonder, though, whether Dawn Ray’d will be a black metal band in ten years time. The exquisite vocal arrangements, and the quiet power of their more meditative compositions, do make me question whether they still ‘need’ the blast at all, other than as a contrast. That would be a pity as the band are a powerful counterweight to black metal’s knuckle-dragging tendency. But, like the artists they cite in the press release for To Know The Light – Chumbawumba, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Propagandhi, Lankum, and Crass – the pursuit of freedom often means escaping the constraints of genre.

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