Review: Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong

The culture war within black metal over fascism has been growing in intensity for several years now, with bands, fans and writers taking an increasingly anti-fascist stance, unwilling to simply accept that far-right politics is part-and-parcel of listening to black metal. Within this context, Dawn Ray’d’s first album, The Unlawful Assembly, was something of a flash-point. Other bands have been writing about what can broadly be termed anti-fascist politics (encompassing anti-capitalism; anti-racism; anti-authoritarianism, and so on) for years – it’s not as if the RABM scene is something new, with bands such as Brazil’s Neverchrist writing anti-fascist black metal since their 2007 Latinoamerican Elite of Antinazi Black Metal demo. Yet Dawn Ray’d have become one of the most visible and high-profile bands of this movement, with their music putting across anarchist, anti-authoritarian perspectives that may be common in the punk scene the members were originally part of, but which are more uncommon within black metal. The band’s profile has only risen since the release of The Unlawful Assembly, and the political situation worldwide has become even more precarious, meaning that the release of follow-up Behold Sedition Plainsong arrives at a crucial time; it is easy to look to an album such as this for political inspiration, but how does it hold up musically?

The initial impression is that, compared to The Unlawful Assembly and debut EP A Thorn, A Blight, Behold Sedition Plainsong is driven by rage. Previous releases contained a strong thread of melodic melancholy, a sense not just of anger at the politics of intolerance, but also a sense of disappointment that they could ever have become so entrenched in our world. In contrast, Behold Sedition Plainsong is filled with fire, giving it an almost primitive character at times; the band have talked about the influence of Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal upon the album and it’s clear to hear. The folk-influenced melodies are still present, and the album has a strong sense of melody; but it is also a more rabid listen than anything the band have produced before.  Whilst there are moments of relative spaciousness, such as the introduction to ‘A Time For Courage at the Border’ and the neo-folk of ‘A Stone’s Throw’, Behold Sedition Plainsong has much more in common with the raw black metal attack of Nattens Madrigal than the folk-infused sounds of Bergtatt, to which The Unlawful Assembly could be compared. Over half the tracks open with bursts of guitar feedback; the drumming is more furious than on previous records; and when the violin melodies kick in, the guitars stay strong in the mix rather than moving into the background as they did previously. 

As such, the album is less of an evolution than it is a refinement. Dawn Ray’d’s core sound arrived almost fully formed on A Thorn, A Blight, and it has changed little since. Behold Sedition’s Plainsong still represents growth, however; the song-writing is generally sharper, being more consistent in quality than previous records were and its 40-minute duration flies by in a storm of righteous rage and fire. ‘To All, To All, To All!’ is a clear choice for a lead “single”, bristling as it does with melody and aggression, and is arguably the highlight of the album; but any weak spots only exist in relative terms and the album is much better paced than The Unlawful Assembly. But more than anything, Behold Sedition Plainsong represents another milestone in anti-fascist black metal. There is an intelligence behind Dawn Ray’d’s music, an almost academic understanding of the topics with which they sing about coupled with an understanding of history and place in both musical and political senses.

The album itself is in the musical tradition of Nattens Madrigal for sure; but more generally, Dawn Ray’d represent a modern continuation of old protest and folk songs, but also of anarchism as a serious train of thought. The roots of Behold Sedition Plainsong can be traced back to authors such as Kropotkin, and a recognition that the modern struggle against anti-fascism is simply a new front in a centuries-old conflict, inherently linked with anti-capitalism, the battle for equality and environmentalism. It is hard not to be invigorated by what Dawn Ray’d offer, to find a sense of optimism and catharsis in the music and belonging in its poetic lyrics. It is uncompromising, inspiring and an album that, whilst very much of our times, also has a timeless feel to it.

Behold Sedition Plainsong will be released via Prosthetic Records on 25th October and can be purchased here.

You can also read our interview with Dawn Ray’d vocalist Simon here as he gives us his track by track guide to Behold Sedition Plainsong.

Words: Stuart Wain

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