Cainan Dawn – Lagu Review

I’m happy to report that I was able to field-test this record under optimal conditions. I pried it out of the sticky muck in the bottom of the promo bin just before embarking on a four-day solo canoe trip in Northern Minnesota. My first full playthrough of Lagu was while sheltering beneath a small cluster of jack pines on the shore of Sucker Lake. I had spent the first part of the morning canoeing in cold rain and decided it was time to stop for lunch. While the rain continued to drizzle down around me and the early stages of hypothermia crept into my feet, I popped in my ear buds. I was hoping Cainan Dawn would deliver a brutally majestic soundtrack to my harsh but beautiful surroundings and distract me from the damp 50 degree chill. Would these Frenchmen deliver an album worthy of their voyageur ancestors or would I have to back paddle my excitement?

Turns out that Lagu delivers all the black metal tropes I was hoping for. It’s dark, it’s fierce, it’s full of atmospheric passages, and it has a meditative quality that made it easy to pass 55 minutes alone. Even sitting in the mud eating damp jerky and soggy trail mix, I felt warmed and transported to a better place. While Cainan Dawn’s music has a cold, almost mechanical feel to it at times, the songs and musicianship create a cozy and inviting space. One of the first things I noticed is that the band likes to lay into a groove. They find a riff and create a pocket around it. This is clearly a band of musicians and not your typical one-man black metal bedroom project. The songs have breadth and space to them that comes from the band members working them up collectively.

Lagu contains a lot of mid-tempo jams. Cainan Dawn is clearly not interested in ripping your face off with their tremolo picking and blast drumming. Instead, they focus on creating a meditative sound space and a musical journey. There are certainly numbers that rip, like “Apnea”, but tempo and dynamics are used to great effect here rather than just fodder for a bonfire of noise. The band introduces a variety of sounds – some organic and some electronic – that take the listener in unexpected directions. My first playthrough became a fun game of guessing what would enter the mix next. I never knew where the songs would go. Curiously, the title track is a four-and-a-half-minute instrumental that segues into the final track, “Profundum.” This is perhaps the most interesting section of the record because it pays off the anticipation built up in the earlier tracks and ends things in a satisfying build up and conclusion.

At the heart of this album is drummer, Kloct. He skillfully makes the stops, starts and transitions on Lagu feel effortless. While he can deliver double bass kicks with the best black metal drummers, there’s a beautiful nuance to the choices he makes and the way he knits the songs together with his drumsticks. He pulls back when the song calls for it and adds flash only when there’s space for it. The ending of “Apnea” is a great example of how a drummer can slowly build interest and excitement from almost nothing. The vocals from singer/guitarist Heruforod are a blend of clean and harsh. Both are often delivered with a spoken word quality that mostly works but I wish they were nudged a bit higher in the mix. The guitars swirl around in many directions like an icy wind. Sometimes they’re nothing more than a simple chord repeated with slight variation. Other times they’re single notes that add texture, dissonance and emotion. The band’s use of repetition lets songs develop more organically than many black metal records.

Listening to Lagu for the first time was one of my favorite musical experiences this year. Cainan Dawn have produced their most complete album to date. I don’t expect many of you will have the chance to spin it in the cold wet woods like I did, and I’ll admit it loses a bit of its magic in the car or at work, but the craftsmanship and thought behind it still shine through. It’s an album that feels more accessible than many black metal records and one I look forward to revisiting periodically. I ultimately graded Lagu down because I’m not convinced it has staying power or breaks that much new ground. It’s still worth your time and a great piece of French métal noir.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Osmose Productions
Releases Worldwide: September 30th, 2022

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