Dawnbringer, the somewhat offbeat project band helmed by Chris Black (Pharaoh, Nachtmystium, High Spirits), is back for the attack after 2010’s stellar Nucleus. That opus really took yours truly by surprise and ended up being one of my favorite releases that year. It possessed a charming blend of classic metal, NWOBHM, thrash and other odds and sods that was compelling, fresh and a whole lot of fun. With high expectations and nerd-raging glee, I finally got my grubby little hands on Into the Lair of the Sun God and I must say, I’m happily surprised once again with what these guys crafted. This time out, it’s more in a classic metal framework, borrowing liberally from NWOBHM luminaries like Iron Maiden, Diamondhead and Saxon, while also taking tons of influence from American acts like Cirith Ungol, Hallow’s Eve, Slough Feg and Pharaoh. It has a more “epic” vibe than before and it adds a cool twist to the sound. It lacks the all-over-the-place chaotic charm of Nucleus, but has a lot going for it and a ton of wild guitar work and interesting riff/harmony ideas. It’s a freaking winner.
This is one of those albums that forgoes song titles for Roman numerals, which always annoys me. Nobody likes telling a friend to “throw on IV and crank that mutherfucker!!!” Anywho, opener “I” (see? that’s annoying!) is an instant standout and one of my favorite songs so far this year. It has a stately, epic feel and tons of NWOBHM riffing. It’s mid-tempo but has an infectious, rolling gallop and surprisingly well done, soulful vocals by Chris Black. His vocals were definitely a love-or-hate proposition on Nucleus, but here he sounds more able, confident and listenable. The star of the show though, is the riffing and solos by (I assume, since lineup info is vague) Matt Johnsen (Pharaoh) and Scott Hoffman (High Spirits). There’s a warm, slightly upbeat, but very traditional flare to the playing (not unlike Slough Feg) that keeps me hooked in. Sometimes they head into quasi-thrash like the Nucleus material (“II”, still annoying), at times it’s Maiden mixed with the bass-heavy rattle of Cirith Ungol (“IV”) and they even attempt something like Thin Lizzy meets hair metal (“V”). The combination of aggressive riffing and “borrowed” Manowar lyrics in “VIII” and the doomy, drone in “IX” also deserve honorable mention.
Though one song essentially bleeds into the other, all the (annoyingly numerical) tracks have a unique identity and all work well. At a trim 44 minutes of playtime, there’s nary an ounce of filler or fat to be found anywhere, and that’s mighty refreshing in this day and age of overlong albums. The album concept of hunting a solar deity is well done and reminds me a bit of the classic Kung Fu movie “Circle of Iron.”
Throughout the album and across the different styles they dabble in, they continually ply the listener with copious amounts of cool guitar nuances and ideas. Some of the solos are hooky and instant, like the ones at 2:06 of “IV” and 3:23 of “V.” Most all of the riffs are winners and bore right into the skull. There are also plenty of cool vocal moments, like the monotone chanting near the end of “III” and the epic-y delivery in “I” (“SILENCE, you bastard!!”). This is a pretty bass-rich album and Black handles that as well as the drums and vox. Sometimes he goes for a Steve Harris gallop and other times employs a more subtle picking technique, but does a fine job and provides a nice low-end rumble to all the songs. Vocally, he still sounds like a hybrid of Lemmy and Bob Mayo of the late great Wargasm, but he’s way more smooth and in command this time out. His phrasing and vocal line placements are better that expected and it really helps the material.
The production is very well done and has a warm, organic, old school feel to it (Death to overly clean, “modern” productions!!). The guitars are mixed just right with the bass, and the drums have a really satisfying, thick sound. There’s a nice low-end, and things are generally much less muddy than on Nucleus, which allows for full appreciation of the twists and turns the music takes.
Dawnbringer is still a pretty cvlt unit, but with back to back winners like Nucleus and Into the Lair of the Sun God, they’re bound to start getting some well-deserved accolades. If you liked Nucleus, you will like this too, though its less experimental and off the cuff. If you haven’t heard Dawnbringer yet, I suggest removing your head from your ass and doing so, post-haste! This is some seriously good stuff and shouldn’t be missed. Get on the Dawn Wagon.