The war (metal) goes ever on, from the recent efforts of Finnish death metallers, Decaying, and on to the new album from Just Before Dawn. Originally formed by Anders Biazzi (Blood Mortized, ex-Amon Amarth) and Rogga Johansson (every death metal in Sweden), this Swedish WMD dropped a bombshell of Bolt Thrower-esque battle metal on 2013s Precis Innan Gryningen, which was heavy-as-hell, raw-as-fuck and meaner than a honey badger on blue meth and Taco Bell. Now they come roaring back with The Aftermath and although Rogga is MIA (except for writing credits), it boasts a daunting list of guest vocalists and guitarists from every strata of the Swedish death scene. With a different croaker popping up on every song along with guest solos galore, it’s surprising that The Aftermath ends up such a cohesive platter of oversized, unrelentingly pulverizing death with enough firepower to destabilize Moldova. Once again, the focus is firmly set on war, battle, death and… other battles, and that works just fine. I’ve come to expect high quality from Mr. Biazzi and once again he’s delivered the bloody goods.
After a slightly overlong, but appropriate battle simulation of an intro, Just Before Dawn drops a daisy cutter with “Lightning War.” It sounds like vintage Bolt Thrower woke up from hibernation angry and heavily armed, and Biazzi’s always effective buzzsaw riffing is teamed with ginormous roars from none other than Dave Ingram of Bolt Thrower fame. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the ugly, savage intensity of the song as the riffs saw and the croaks rattle the speakers, and this is what battle themed death should sound like. As if that wasn’t enough, Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre) shows up as he always seems to on Biazzi-based projects to drop one of his infamous whammy dive solos. From there they hit the flanks with the relentlessly jackhammering and grinding nastiness of “Soulburner” where Jonas Stallhammer (Bombs of Hades, ex-The Crown) provides righteous death grunts. It’s so simple, so direct and unpretentious, but so skull cracking, it brings a smile to this jaded old reviewer.
Other key moments come with “Device of Utter Death,” which uses bleak, eerie riffs to create an extra dark mood, “Bastard Battalion,” and its rumbling, tank-like power and commanding chorus, and “Bastogne” which features a brilliant pairing of doomy, slightly blackened riffs and thundering double bass drumming.
While still enjoyably heavy, “Death From Above” and its overly simplistic rumble is a bit below the standards of what Mr. Biazzi has released in the past. Elsewhere, the title track is a solid dose of doom dirge with some nifty solos, but it runs a bit too long. At just over 50 minutes not including bonus tracks, the album is also a bit long considering how heavy and oppressive the material is. Like battle, it will fatigue you, and by the ninth song, I’m usually getting aural PTSD.
As with Blood Mortized, Just Before Dawn work so well because of Biazzi’s deft hand at crafting killer riffs that reek of the grave and the early Sunlight Studio days. His style fuses classic Entombed and Dismember with the power of Bolt Thrower and the epic, Viking bloodlust of Amon Amarth. If that sounds tasty, it is. When he isn’t rolling out one crushing, but memorable riff after another, he’s decorating his compositions with all sorts of morose, bleak flourishes. These depressive moments give the album a grim vibe that fits the battlefield motif perfectly. There are also a few surprises, like the unexpectedly melodic harmonies on the back end of “Through the Mud.” Most impressively, the songs work regardless of who ends up croaking and caterwauling over the riffs, and that’s a testament to the quality of the writing and playing Biazzi brings to the table.
Speaking of vocalists, Dave Ingram impresses most on “Lightning War,” but “Jonas Stalhammer (Bombs of Hades, ex-The Crown) also delivers big dividends on “Soulburner,” as does Mark Grewe (Morgoth) on “Through the Mud.” The only guest appearance that doesn’t completely work is Teddy Moeller (F.K.U.). His screaming during “Incoming” eventually gets a bit tiring and lowers the replay factor of what is otherwise a fine slab of death.
Listen to this album and you’ll understand why the new Decaying suffered mightily by comparison. This is the real soundtrack to war: ugly, nightmarish and suffocating. If you feel the need to get beaten to a pulp or crushed into the cold, wet earth, Just Before Dawn stands ready to oblige. Strap on the helmet and keep low!