There long has been an argument—a silly one at that—about what constitutes black metal and which bands are allowed to accept that tag. I wasn’t aware a constitution had been produced, though you’d think these rules, something that really shouldn’t belong in a chaotic art form, are passed down on ancient scrolls. It’s never not ridiculous to have this conversation.
Somewhere along the way, it was decided progressive politics, anarchism, and left-wing ideologies flew in the face of black metal, though that message never made it to Dawn Ray’d, one of the most ferocious and thought-provoking bands in that subgenre over the last decade. On their excellent third record “To Know the Light” the trio finds ways to be even more thunderous than their past (2017’s “The Unlawful Assembly” and 2019’s “Behold Sedition Plainsong”), and while their belief remains bleeding on their sleeves, they also add more personal touches to these 10 songs. The band—vocalist/violinist/synth player Simon Barr, guitarist/vocalist Fabian Devlin, drummer/percussionist Matthew Broadley (he also adds harmonium and piano)—sounds channeled and alive as ever, burning down power structures, intertwining passionate folk passages into the mix, and delivering blistering black metal delirium.
“The Battle of Sudden Flame” opens by directly addressing police violence, something just as prevalent on our shores, the eruption of black metal force stunning. The playing rampages and wrenches guts, and Barr howls, “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.” “Ancient Light” brings a melodic rush, the violin lines slicing through muscle, the fiery assault taking on the form of an endless torch. “We the ones of burning light, we are strength unquantifiable,” Barr wails as the playing utterly destroys, sending shrapnel flying as the final call of, “But fear all us now who fight for ourselves,” landing blows. “Inferno” is moody as it starts, eventually setting fires, jolting with stinging fury, barging through barricades. The track depicts hell actually existing on Earth, a theory that’s hard to deny, and the stirring strings and delirious energy flood to the surface. “Requital” has the band singing a capella throughout the track, getting into your mind and persuading through the emotion. “And if am going to burn, then you are going to burn, for the wasting of all the world is a punishment you have earned,” makes your blood surge amid their protest anthem. “Sepulchre (Don’t Vote)” ignites out of the gates, savagery coming with them with a vengeance. The strings scrape and cause the room to spin, the shrieks leave enemies quivering, and everything ends in a solemn pall.
“Cruel Optimism” is rustic with acoustics and the violin streaking, defiant speaking jabbing in the message. “Joy through destruction, we can spite them and live free in the spite, defiance as purpose, lack of purpose as defiance,” Barr says before the final moments attack with a black grind assault. “In the Shadow of the Past” is somber at the start, strings bending, the playing slowly trudging, dripping blood in the mud. Things sweep up as the shrieks tear down walls, the guitars storm, and the pressure gets more intense, the carnage ending in strings and calm. “Freedom in Retrograde” is another folkish track, one with uniting force and undeniable energy, Barr flexing his clean singing that is incredibly strong. “At our darkest moments, with our detractors circling, I just believe in freedom for every living thing,” Barr calls, rallying forces behind him, slamming that point home with his final call: “If you still sing, then I’ll still sing.” “Wild Fire” brings horns blowing, the speed tearing through the center, and crushing, vibrant playing lights up everything. A brief speaking part fires up, and then the playing rips forcefully, the drumming ruptures, and a group singing howl of, “There is nothing in these songs of which to be ashamed, everything we sing about I would just as plainly say,” makes your nerves react. Closer “Go As Free Companions” sweeps in like as storm, the playing bubbling over, the shrieks crushing wills. “You the still unafraid to love, a demand for the end of demands,” Barr calls as the playing gets hazier yet direct, eventually calming before the emotions run high again. Group singing paves the way for the final moments, the band declaring, “The sun still shines, and it would be a waste to not only lose tomorrow, but also lose today.”
Dawn Ray’d’s belief system and politics remains as strong as ever, though “To Know the Light” shows a bit of a different side in as violent a manner possible. The themes of solidarity and strength rush as hard as the lashing back at power and the drive to gut capitalism, and combining those two worlds make this an even more powerful experience than their previous records. This is conviction, actions placed behind their words, and they’ll burn everything down before they let the common people, their friends and families, succumb to the blades of the enemies. That’s black fucking metal.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/dawnrayd
To buy the album, go here: https://shop.prostheticrecords.com/products/dawn-rayd-to-know-the-light
For more on the label, go here: https://prostheticrecords.com/