Dawnbringer
Into the Lair of the Sun God

There is heavy metal, and then there is metal. It bugs me when some people (either not metal fans, or religious authorities, or simply older people who likely still have Tipper Gore/PMRC headlines echoing in their heads from the early 80s) call it all “heavy metal music.” Heavy metal is a specific genre, mostly from the 70s and 80s. It refers to progenitors like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, early Judas Priest (even Led Zeppelin to some degree), and then later, NWOBHM heavyweights Iron Maiden and their contemporaries Saxon, Diamondhead, Witchfinder General, etc. (And don’t forget bands like Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, the mighty cheesefest of Manowar, etc). Whereas metal, well, that’s just about everything else. You wouldn’t call Emperor, Cannibal Corpse, Obscura, Deathspell Omega or Neurosis heavy metal, would you?

Okay, so why the history lesson/rant? ‘Cause in this case, Dawnbringer are not a metal band. They’re a heavy metal band. Call them heavy metal, trad metal, whatever – they exemplify the bravado, swagger and heroics of that late 70s/early 80s sound. On their newest and fifth full-length, Into the Lair of the Sun God, they do it with a mythological, epic tale that deserves its own Frank Frazetta painting: a man who sets out to murder the sun.

This is more than just a paean to old Robert E. Howard pulps and hoary myths from the dawn of time, though – a good chunk of Into the Lair of the Sun God sounded to me like a sweat-soaked love letter to Iron Maiden, particularly Iron Maiden through Powerslave. For the first four parts of the album (simply titled “I” through “IV”), we get galloping rhythms, heroic and fist-pumping melodies, vocal harmonies and hooky choruses. Think of all of the most epic tracks of that Maiden time period – “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” “To Tame a Land,” “Flight of Icarus,” “Powerslave,” “The Duellists” – and you’ll hear nods and cues to the best moments and solos from those songs in the exciting first act of this epic journey.

“II” adds in a punkier, more Motorhead-like call to action, while “III” is moodier, with a Steve Harris gallop rearing up into Queen-like harmonies in the chorus. “IV” is just an all-out burner like “The Trooper” or “Phantom of the Opera,” and incorporates a lovely plucked instrumental that reminded me of the closing minutes of “Alexander the Great” (outside the aforementioned Maiden range, but fitting). And “I,” which kicks off the album in thunderous fashion, is one of my favorite metal tracks of the year so far.

The most unique thing about all of this though, is vocalist and mastermind Chris Black. Black, in addition to fronting the retro metal/rock acts Superchrist and High Spirits and pounding the skins in US power metal act Pharaoh, is also a former member of Nachtmystium and current writer for Metal Maniacs (under the name Professor Black). It’s obvious that the guy lives and breathes classic metal, and his voice – a rough yet soft croon, like a young Lemmy – sounds like a warm, nostalgic throwback to those earlier times. It fits the mix well (the guitars are never too booming, the drums don’t drown the rest out, and everything just hangs together in a nice mid-range thrum), but I also can’t help but feel that with the restraint and balance in his delivery, some emotion is being left on the table.

It’s probably unfair to compare any vocalist to Bruce Dickinson these days, but he’s a man singing at the edge of his ability (and human ability) – you can almost hear the oxygen in his lungs turning to fire as he finally releases those glorious air-raid notes. These vocals, by comparison, are more of a simmer, and there were only a few times throughout the album where they cranked to something more impassioned. The music deserved more of that.

Pacing was the other big issue here, and for me, it’s ultimately the album’s downfall. After the first four tracks, “V” is a Nazareth-like ballad which is merely… pleasant. Not heart-rending, not soaring, not stirring or tragic, just… pleasant. Slowing things down is fine, although the melodies here sounded to me like the long exhale at the end of a hard journey, and not its midpoint. After that, “VI” and “VII” are slower, doomier canters, and except for one of the vocal peaks I mentioned above, they’re fairly pedestrian.

Now, if this were a typical three-act structure (for movies, adventures, etc), then “I” through “IV” would have been the kick-ass first act, and “V” through “VII” would have been the second, where things get more dire and complicated for the hero, and where things become their darkest as we move into act III. That should have resulted in a pitched battle for “VIII,” something to rival the excitement and clash of the first four tracks as our hero must finally confront his adversary – but instead, we get another steady trot. The melody itself is heroic, and I could just imagine how much better it would’ve been had it matched the intensity and energy of “I” or “IV,” but it’s just a snooze of a climax, and it’s followed by a slow denouement in “IX.”

Perhaps Black had a more somber storyline in mind for Into the Lair of the Sun God, but the concept of the album and the exuberance of those first four songs suggested a wilder ride. This is still a unique metal experience and a must-hear for any fan of classic metal, but it ultimately wasn’t the shining triumph I was hoping for after that first thrilling call to action.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
July 26th, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Dan

    I bought the last CD after I heard one track, ‘Swing Hard,’ and read reviews that called ‘Nucleus’ a ‘fist-pumping classic metal romp,’ which, based on that one track, sounded accurate. But I have to say I was very disappointed.

    It wasn’t bad, but ‘Swing Hard’ was an anomaly. The rest was kind of drawn out, experimental Nachtmystium cast-offs and Black’s vocal delivery was very monotone.

    I blame the cover art. Sometimes you want the album to be as good as it looks.


  2. Commented by: Guilliame

    Just because old folks or religious “authorities” (!?) are not cool and call it all Heavy Metal does not mean DawnBringer is not a metal band that plays Heavy Metal Metal, so to speak.


  3. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    Good write up, but I’ve got to disagree about the second half of the album. I think this is one of the very few albums I’ve ever heard where the familiar tag line of “you have to listen to the album as one piece of work, not a collection of songs”. I find the second half, especially “VI” to be just as good as the first.

    This is album really is a grower and reveals itself more and more over repeated listens. If you’ve only given it a listen or two, I think you should spend some more time with it. It’s also perfect highway driving music!

    Overall I think it’s a big improvement over “Nucleus”. That album, despite being stylistically all over the place, came off as much to methodically ‘composed’, while this album feels like it comes from the gut.


  4. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    Dan – Give this one a try (or 10).


  5. Commented by: Storm King

    This album isn’t a grower for me, it’s been all I’ve played since I read this review and bought the album as MP3s off Amazon earlier today. Really, really solid trad metal-am I the only one getting a Blue Oyster Cult vibe off of “III”?-and the second half works well for me, with the musical story becoming more somber and serious after the balladry of “V.” The first half is, I’ll admit, more air guitar worthy, but the second half is really solid and focused music. And it gets better with every listen.


  6. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    ” The first half is, I’ll admit, more air guitar worthy, but the second half is really solid and focused music. And it gets better with every listen.”

    THIS, is really what it all comes down to. Spot on.


  7. Commented by: Juan Manuel Pinto

    Rime of the Ancient Mariner


  8. Commented by: gabaghoul

    doh, brainfart. fixed.


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