One of the biggest disappointments this year was Profound Lore’s inexplicable failure to get us a copy of the new Dawnbringer promo, Night of the Hammer. Due to said failure, it was we who might have missed one of the best albums of the year. I’ve been a major supporter of Chris Black’s (High Spirits, Pharaoh, ex-Nachtmystium) weird proto-metal project ever since their outre Nucleus platter, and I was equally bowled over by 2012’s Into the Lair of the Sun God. Maintaining the band’s upward trajectory once again, Night of the Hammer takes the Dawnbringer sound even further backward into metal’s past, coming across like a hybrid of Manilla Road and Blue Oyster Cult, with the occasional nods to Cirith Ungol and Trouble. What results is one of the best and most listenable albums of the year and like his rocking High Spirits release from earlier in 2014, it’s another triumph for Mr. Black.
If you need two words to describe NotH, those words should be “stripped down.” This is an austere, sparse album, that somehow manages to open up more and more with repeat spins. The guitar riffs and melodies are often immediate and memorable, but the songs themselves grow impressively if the listener lets them marinate for a spell. Tracks like “Alien” and “The Burning of Rome” are simple and direct, but the combination of winning riffs and Black’s increasingly interesting vocals make them immediate winners. Then there are the bigger, more epic numbers like “Xiphias,” which sounds like Led Zeppelin‘s “Achilles Last Stand” filtered through a Blue Oyster Cult weirdness strainer to arrive at something like a heavier, more grandiose version of “Astronomy.”
The show stopper is “One-Eyed Sister,” which has enthralled several AMG staff members in unhealthy and nonproductive ways. It’s like morose folk rock that drifts into introspective doom and back out again to find itself rooted in rock once again. The simplistic beauty of the guitar melodies slay me and Black outdoes himself with a slobberknocker vocal performance. Moody and addictive stuff and a strong contender for Song o’ the Year.
There are even a few surprises, like the sudden lurch into Mercyful Fate territory on “Funeral Child” where Black (or someone else) does an uncanny King Diamond impersonation. This one is a bit out-of-place with the rest of the album and feels jarring, but it’s still fun. There’s also a return to the Darkthrone-esque black thrash last heard on Nucleus during “Not Your Night.”
As a whole, NotH plays amazingly well and like the two previous Dawnbringer albums, there’s something very arcane and addictive about it that keeps drawing me back. It’s almost entirely based around a plodding, mid-tempo rumble, but the guitar harmonies make it feel far more lively than it is. There are so many tasty, old school riffs from the late 70s and early 80s, it’s actually a bit mind-blowing. Making things all the better are Black’s newly diverse and listenable vocals, and where they were somewhat of a liability in the past, they now remind me of something off a Hammers of Misfortune platter and make the material even more captivating and quirky.
Three albums in a row and Dawnbringer seems to keep getting better even as their sound shifts into new and unusual places. If you haven’t checked these guys out yet, you’re missing one of America’s best metal bands, and Night of the Hammer is another laurel for them to rest on. Good thing for us Chris Black never seems to rest. And did I mention that awesome cover art? It’s obviously hammer time.
Tracks to Check: “One-Eyed Sister,” “Xiphias” and “Alien”