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I am amazed this band didn't made a bigger splash than they did. I suppose I'd have to blame the scene for that, as it has become so overrun with third-rate At The Gates/ In Flames wannabes that this band has been tarred with the 'yet another melodic death metal band' brush. Yes Solar Dawn are from Sweden, yes they play Melodic Death Metal of the general Gothenburg school, and I suppose if you really hate that style, you can just skip the rest of this, but it would be a shame to dismiss this band, as they are way too good to ignore.
What I like about Solar Dawn is that they are all about the riff. A lot of bands of this stripe play nice harmonies and good leads, but they don't have the stuff to write real songs. These guys build rock-solid songs around some of the coolest riffs I have heard in ages. Each song has its main riff, plus breakdown and alternate riffs to keep things from getting dull, and each tune has its own identity. One spin of the album and each song will be immediately identifiable, not to mention that some of the riffs are fiendishly hooky. (The main lick from "Punished By Silence" in particular, will never come out of your skull.) There are some slower tunes like "Deep In Mourning" which has some clean vocals that are surprisingly good, and thrashier cuts like "Spellbinder" and the awesome "Artistic Blasphemy". Throughout the CD Solar Dawn successfully combine Swedish Death Metal with a Traditional Metal riff sensibility to generate some monstrously catchy, headbanging stuff.
The look of the CD is atypical, with a rather artistic cover pic and a perfectly legible logo. The interior design is fine, if uninspired. Lyrics are included, and I have to say they are pretty cliché. Typical Gothenburger junk here like "Insidious lords of utopian decay/ once on the throne of this world/ indoctrination, salvation or decay?" What the hell does that mean? Whatever. Fortunately this is Death Metal, and you can't really understand the words anyway. The production is very good, with that signature Abyss guitar tone and a massive lower end to the proceedings so that the whole package sounds heavy as Hell.
Solar Dawn are a very cool band, and I see no reason why the fact that their general subgenre usually sucks should hold them back. Whatever you think of the Gothenburg sound, these guys are an excellent band that deserve way more attention than they are getting. I highly, highly recommend this album to any and all Death fans who aren't addicted to Satan, as this is heavy, crushing stuff that will grab you by the throat and won't let go. An excellent and unjustly overlooked CD.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
My general opinion of the Gothenburg sound is that it has its moments (such as a few choice songs by At the Gates, Arch Enemy, etc.), but is for the most part, boring. I don't really consider Amon Amarth, one of my favorite bands, part of the genre. Their aggression, lyrical imagery, and talent elevate them above standard melodeath. And while I definitely can hear the similarities to Amon Amarth in Solar Dawn’s work (the first two tracks feature unmistakable AA riffs), in my mind, this band falls right in with the likes of Dark Tranquillity and Soilwork. When they're not copying Amon Amarth, the riffwork is very much the same. It's especially noticeable on the track "Spellbinder," which could almost be swapped with anything on Steelbath Suicide without anyone being the wiser. Or is it The Chainheart Machine I'm thinking of? All this Gothenburg stuff sounds the same to me these days.
Ugh, then there's the vocals. Älvestam sounds like he's just trying too hard to sound harsh. While the opening scream on "Punished by Silence" is almost reminiscent of Johan Hegg, the rest just comes off as really strained, like he's fighting a throat infection. I do very much like the clean vocals to be found on "Deicidal Beliefs" however. If they'd stuck with that, I imagine I'd get much more enjoyment out of this. As is, the vocals just grate on my nerves. The momentary clean interludes provide some measure of variation, but not nearly enough.
Right up till the end, there's nothing else really noteworthy. The best song I've heard from this band was on their previous EP, Frost-Work. If this whole album sounded more akin to "Arisen Composure," it would be another story entirely. A song of that caliber was what I was waiting to hear, but it never came. Highlights? Meh, So while Solar Dawn may at times sound like Amon Amarth, they're too lacking to stand up to the masters of melodic Viking death metal. What this really amounts to is typical melodeath with bad vocals and recycled riffs. Don’t waste your time.