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Dawnbringer - Into the Lair of the Sun God - 75%

the american god, October 6th, 2012

[Note: This review was originally posted on my blog. The original can be found here: http://chuckmangione.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/dawnbringer-into-the-lair-of-the-sun-god/]

To me, Dawnbringer is something of an anomaly. They’re a band that incorporate two genres that have been entirely separate since the 1980s: heavy and black metal. Not since the ur-example of black metal, Venom, has there been such a band. That I’m aware of, anyway. On their 2010 release, Nucleus, the band captivated me with their sound. It was much more the former than the latter, but at the same time that flavor was there. Lurking just past the threshold, giving the album something of a post-apocalyptic flavor. It was dry - but in a good way. Like a Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age almost. I hope you’ll forgive equating the album with The Road Warrior, because that’s really how I feel about it. Nucleus was like being Mel Gibson’s character in that film: I was lost in a dead, terrible place; and the Beast was on my tail.

Another apt comparison - perhaps more so than The Road Warrior - would be Stephen King’s epic, The Dark Tower. In fact, it’s the first that occurs to me when I look at the cover art for that album. It’s a dead place, the sun looms high over head, falling behind an ominous spire. At the base of the spire is some sort of undead creature. It seems to be carrying the head of a child, for a reason I cannot begin to imagine. This post-apocalyptic dark fantasy is what defines the sound of this band and is indeed why I enjoy them quite as much as I do. It’s a very enthralling mix of sounds, ideas, and themes. Dawnbringer has followed up this, in my opinion, masterpiece from 2010 with 2012’s Into the Lair of the Sun God. Is it as good as it’s predecessor?

In a word.. no. I don’t feel that it is. Into the Lair of the Sun God is nine tracks, each designated with a Roman numeral rather than a conventional title. We begin the album on a high note, with the first numeral. Immediately the band’s ever-present Iron Maiden influence jumps right out at you. After the short intro, anyway. The opening riff is modest in it’s tempo and, while it certainly doesn’t lack forward momentum, seems to want to set the stage for the rest of the album rather than simply suck you in and thrust you right into the story of the apparent deity and the man whom is destined to slay him. After the first couple of verses there is a lengthy bridge featuring some excellent layered guitar interplay where their black metal comes roaring out of the gate. It’s certainly a highlight of the album. The lyrical component comes to an end with a provocative stanza that brings a terrible prophecy to light:

“My destiny is death,
and so it is done.
I am the one,
to murder the sun.”

So now we know why the protagonist must venture into the titular lair. The second numeral begins with an aggressive riff that reminds one of modern thrash metal in a way. This riff is accompanied by something of a quirk; a section where we’re treated to a tremolo riff that crashes to a halt, bringing the song to a stop for a split second during the pre-chorus. There is a lot of this start-stop aspect to the track. A lot of palm-muting, which only makes the thrash metal equation all the more appropriate, I think. Again, there is a distinct interplay between the two guitarists. The song really pushes forward with a lot of forward momentum. Their black metal influence comes out just how gnashing the lead riff is. The interplay during the bridge is more melodic, more the Maiden side of the Dawnbringer equation. Our protagonist makes his promise to the Sun god that he is coming - and that he means business.

The third numeral begins with the melodic, Maiden inspired side of things, with an opening riff that sounds like would be at home on Powerslave. There is some creamy dual riffs, and a short solo with some Middle Eastern flavor. The intro leads into a lovely galloping riff that leads the song from there, through the track proper. We’re told of a young man in the heat of battle. He confronts his enemies head on, but is ultimately slain. From there the song breaks down and is suddenly sorrowful. We’re treated to more dual-guitar: one aggressive on the high end, the other mournful on the low. Letting loose slow and soaring. The drums are just as restrained, repeating the same roll over and over. It seems the young man that lay dead on this battlefield is the motivation for our protagonist, as the song fades out with an ominous refrain:

“Into the lair of the sun god
Into the lair of the sun god
Into the lair of the sun god
Into the lair of the sun god
Into the lair of the sun god”

Numeral four immediately jumps out and kicks things off with a bang. This track is all business. It’s one black metal-inspired, face-melting riff after another. The track’s solo plays over another Maiden-esque gallop which leads into a climbing, palm-muted riff that takes us into the final verse. Like the previous track, there is a sudden breakdown where the song simply stops and decays into a gentle soundscape lead by the lead guitar. Then the bass kicks in, a really sexy riff, and the galloping Maiden riff comes roaring back. We come back to that lovely bass riff, then into a very triumphant conclusion. These first four tracks are the highlight of the album; each one is an exceptional mix of black metal and heavy metal, painting a grim story of a man out for revenge.

But from here is where we run into why I really do not like this album at all. It starts on the fifth track - the fifth numeral. Which is something of a ballad. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a good ballad. But I didn’t feel like there was anything really interesting about it. If you’ve heard one heavy metal ballad, you’ve probably heard them all. The guitarwork is slow and sappy: it feels somewhat generic in it’s construction; there’s no real effort behind it. It’s not horrible. Obviously, the point of the song is Chris Black’s vocal performance, which is pulled more to the forefront than on other tracks. But, compared to previous tracks, which featured a lot of layered dual guitar, I just didn’t feel like the track was very interesting. I’m not so sure Dawnbringer is where I want to hear a ballad, really. They’re more than welcome to do so, but I probably won’t enjoy it.

This same problem plagues the entire rest of the album. The interplay is gone, the Maiden is gone, the Venom is gone. The latter five tracks of the album are one generic power chord riff after another. The riffs themselves aren’t bad. Not horrible, not anything offensive. But the problem is that they don’t hold up against the first four numerals. I didn’t really hate them at all but at the same time I found myself wanting to return to the beginning of the album as soon as possible. It was somewhat difficult to finish the album for this reason. The sixth track is probably the least offensive and most enjoyable. The riff is just a few power chords, but it’s aggressive, and compliments Black’s delivery; which is, of course, as excellent as it always is. Moreover, there is the presence of that.. organ thing that Acid Witch used on Witchtanic Hellucinations. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s on the sixth track. It’s a welcome inclusion that fits their sound to a T.

That’s about it for anything good to say about the latter half of the album. It just did nothing for me. At all. For this reason, I feel it is not quite up to snuff with Nucleus. With others like it? Probably. Just because it’s a simple power chord riff doesn’t automatically make it bad. It doesn’t compare well with the other end of the album, or anything from Nucleus, but it holds up on its own just fine. Chris Black’s vocal performance doesn’t suffer the same creative failures that the compositions do. He’s consistently enjoyable throughout the entire album. Can I recommend it to fans of Dawnbringer? I don’t see why not. Metal fans not familiar with Dawnbringer? Certainly not. I will continue to direct them to Nucleus for the time being. Can I see myself giving this album another spin in the future? Yeah, probably. Maybe not as often as the previous album, but occasionally.