If only all musicians, metal or not, could be half as inventive and ambitious as Chris Black. Not only would music as a whole be a lot more tolerable, but we’d have a giant collection of artists whose work is worthy of our time. But that’s not where we live, and Black goes relatively unappreciated by the more mainstream metal crowd.
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with dining on mainstream metal, but hearing Black’s work could do that audience a world of good. His creativity resulted in some of Nachtmystium’s best work ever, and his own bands including Pharaoh, High Spirits, and Dawnbringer have brought him to the forefront of underground metal, where he enjoys one hell of a stellar reputation. It seems like the man never rests, and his devotion to the roots of metal and building on those sounds makes him a figure worth revering. Black found a new peak the last half decade with his Dawnbringer project on 2010’s stunning “Nucleus” and 2012’s unreal concept album “Into the Lair of the Sun God,” a record that found favor among just about every corner of the always fickle underground. Now he’s back with a new Dawnbringer album “Night of the Hammer” that is some of the band’s strangest and most varied work.
Black and his crew still are devoted to the sounds of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and if you dine on classic Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Manilla Road, and Dio, you’ll find a ton to like with “Night of the Hammer.” One big alteration is the greater focus on Black’s voice, as he delivers layered lines that would sound glistening and fresh coming from a classic rock radio station. He is a more-than-capable singer, and now he’s letting himself branch out in the area more than ever before. He also throws a few curveballs on this album, that sounds glorious but is awash in gruesome violence, but those really shouldn’t throw anyone who is a fan of Dawnbringer’s early work or who understands Black’s headspace. In fact, it might take you back to the band’s earliest work. Oh, we’re focused on Black here, but he’s not alone, as Scott Hoffman, Bill Palko, and Matt Johnsen provide the ample, tremendous guitar work.
The record gets off to a gritty start with “Alien,” as it hits a nice groove and has aforementioned layered vocals that give the singing an even richer feel. It’s an odd choice as an opener considering it’s not an adrenaline charger like “So Much for Sleep” or “I,” but it’s a pretty cool song with a damn catchy chorus, with Black getting ominous by observing, “Every night they’re calling me to them.” “The Burning Home” warns of danger on the horizon, with Black howling, “Hide your sons, war has come.” It feels like doom is on the doorstep, like a black swarm of clouds and an unforgiving twister aiming to chew the entire landscape. “Nobody There” is one of the strongest, most memorable songs on the record, with chugging guitars, deliberately delivered vocals, and a tremendous chorus, with Black poking, “Where will you run to?” The slide guitars that color the back end add a nice bit of texture to the thing. “Xiphias” has a folkish feel to it, complete with Black’s vocals that could go just as well with strings and whistles as his metallic backing. Like the rest of the record, nothing but darkness in on the path, as Black matter-of-factly notes, “We won’t survive,” as the song situates itself in watery terror. “Hands of Death” has a classic pace of a Dio song, with start-stop riffing tending the fire, Maiden-esque lead lines blazing the way, and some great, burly soloing that closes the song.
“One-Eyed Sister” is another noteworthy cut as it has a hard-edged sea chanty feel, with Black telling an ominous, bloody tale that could run chills down your spine. Along the way, the bass buzzes, the guitars are richly melodic and dark, and the vocals hammer home the story with maximum effectiveness. “Damn You” is a killer, and one of the most menacing tracks on the album. The opening feels uneasy and bloodcurdling, and the music goes toward bristling doom. The chorus could not be more simplistic, with Black coldly calling back the title, but it works so damn well. Also, lines including, “Are you now prepared to greet the ghosts from hell?” lets you know all you need to about this song’s intentions. Then the album gets weird. “Not Your Night” delves into death metal territory, sounding more like something off “In Sickness and In Dreams,” and while it goes along with the foreboding sentiment of the record, it feels a little odd. Same goes for “Funeral Child” that sounds like a tribute to King Diamond. Black goes for the extreme falsetto with his vocals, which takes a little getting used to, before things settle back down, with Black urging, “Turn your face away.” These two tracks aren’t bad cuts at all, they just feel like they’re out of place sonically. Closer “Crawling Off the Die” buttons up the record nicely, with clean guitars eventually giving way to some drama, the glory of the band’s sound swelling for a final time, and Black singing that he’s indeed off to do that the song’s title indicates.
This is the first Dawnbringer record in a couple of tries that doesn’t totally resonate on first try, but there’s nothing wrong with albums being growers. In fact, I like ones that are because you kind of have to earn them and put some effort into understanding the work. Black continues to push ahead being one of metal’s true ambassadors, and even if he’s not on the tip of the tongues of mainstream fans quite yet, I doubt that concerns him. This is more powerful, challenging, and ultimately fun music from Dawnbringer, one of the most consistent bands in metal this decade.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/deathofhunger
To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/