Heavy music in the UK has a long history of left-wing involvement, from Discharge and Amebix, through Doom and Napalm Death, and now, with The Unlawful Assembly, Dawn Ray’d could well be ready to join the ranks of classic riff-wielding anti-fascists. Twisting the forms of second and third wave black metal through folk-infused instrumentation and keening melody, the Liverpool three piece deliver a vital and invigorating take on a subgenre long tainted by its associations with fascism.
Dawn Ray’d’s anarchist anti-fascism is woven throughout The Unlawful Assembly, with razor-sharp dissections of class politics and nationalism sitting alongside calls to arms for the downtrodden and dispossessed. On opening track ‘Fire Sermon’, muscular riffs make way for sinuous violin lines that maintain the same musical intensity, carrying melody like contemporaries Oathbreaker and Deafheaven, but somehow made more urgent on a folk instrument.
Heard alongside later tracks like ‘Abyssal Plain’ and ‘Held In a Lunar Synthesis’, ‘Fire Sermon’ shows a clear progression from preceding EP A Thorn, A Blight, with Dawn Ray’d’s folk elements fully integrated into their songs. The effect is like hearing the black/death of Wode or Tombs combined with Ulver or Panopticon’s blackened folk, and as a sound it’s both convincing and compelling.
The songwriting throughout The Unlawful Assembly is tight and brutally effective, a testament to the band’s long history in previous act We Came Out Like Tigers. Elements of We Came Out Like Tigers remain in Dawn Ray’d’s melodic sense, but the move into black metal better encapsulates the increased desperation, anger and urgency evidenced here.
When Dawn Ray’d soften their sound, as in ‘A Litany To Cowards’ and ‘A Thought, Ablaze’, the effect is just as forceful as The Unlawful Assembly’s heavier moments. There is a vulnerability in the clean vocals, but that slight imperfection sits Dawn Ray’d firmly in the tradition of musicians as activists. These are songs of the oppressed, which have to be sung, with the means at hand, when there is nobody to sing them for you.
As an extension of Liverpool’s history of working-class organisation, anti-fascist activism and cultural crossover with Celtic folk traditions, The Unlawful Assembly is a fitting continuation of folk music as resistance and an important repositioning of UK black metal as a progressive, leftist force.
Like all the best revolutionary music, it seems designed to inspire other bands to form and take the message forward. There is supreme talent and burning intensity here, but Dawn Ray’d wear it with an unpretentious levity that almost invites you to pick up a guitar and join the cause. With its classic melodies and stripped down instrumentation, it’s easy to imagine The Unlawful Assembly being reproduced on acoustic instruments on street corners, in rallies or in the midst of a riot.
It has always been the role of working-class folk music to speak the truth to power and Dawn Ray’d have by turns incorporated that tradition into contemporary black metal, flipping a genre long associated with the far-right on its head, red hot, weaponised and ready to take on the oppressors.
Words: Andrew Day