Cassius King – Dread the Dawn Review

I don’t know why I picked up Dread the Dawn for review. I already have another one due for the same date; without quite being able to say why, the name Cassius King filled me foreboding, as did the album artwork; and the statement in the promo blurb that the band is a “feeling set to music, which can’t really be done justice with the generic terms stoner and doom” made me shudder and laugh simultaneously … shaugh? So why did I grab it? I honestly couldn’t tell you but I wish I hadn’t. A four-piece out of New Jersey, Cassius King is led by guitarist Dan Lorenzo (Hades, Non-Fiction) and an eponymous band, among others) and features former Overkill drummer Ron Lipnicki, Vessel of Light bassist Jimmy Schulman and on vox we have Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Spastic Ink, Dangerous Toys). Make of that what you will. Cassius King’s 2021 debut, Field Trip, was a straightforward piece of stoner-influenced heavy metal, with hints of classic doom. It didn’t push any envelopes but did what it did well enough.

Scroll forward a year and Cassius King is back with its sophomore effort. The ‘trade press’ has, according to the promo blurb, said that Lorenzo’s “mastery in the art of writing real, true-to-life riffs is second to none”. I don’t know who said this (as, suspiciously, no source is provided) but, more importantly, I also don’t know what a true-to-life riff is. If, however, Dread the Dawn is packed with them, I don’t like them. The riffs on show here are repetitive, stoner doom fare, with an annoying tendency toward what I can only characterize as a “chugging groove.” Set against a backdrop of slightly fuzzed bass grooves and workmanlike drumming, the guitars create a monotonous thudding pattern, over which McMaster does his thing. That thing is a heavily stylized delivery, all distended vowels and false vibrato, which I suspect is a love or hate style. I found it never less than deeply irritating.

I must have listened to this album a dozen times now and, as well as being no closer to enjoying Cassius King, I am also no closer to being able to tell the songs apart, even with McMaster’s habit of nasally wailing out the title periodically. The occasional decent moments, like the Dozer-esque riff that kicks in toward the back end of “Genesis” or the Orange Goblin-like opening to “Royal Blooded” (before the inexplicable sports whistle!) are all too few and serve simply to highlight the mediocre and tedious nature of the rest of the material. Despite being a four-piece, the whole thing sounds somehow thin and lacking in power or punch. It’s like there’s an empty space between the guitar and the bass, which is just open and not in the good way we sometimes talk about, where the instruments have room to breathe.

To be fair (I suppose I should be), the production helps absolutely nobody. Sounding flat and compressed, with the drums clipped and cymbals tinny, McMaster’s voice is way too far up in the mix, adding to the exhausting nature of the very loud master. As far as Lorenzo goes, it’s clear he’s a good guitarist and executes what he has well (see the leads on “Messiah to Pariah,” for example), it’s just a shame that the actual riffs aren’t very good. The problem lies very much in the songwriting, not in the execution, as far as the guitar goes. When it comes to vocals, however, the execution is highly questionable. It’s probably a personal taste thing but I really hate McMaster’s delivery on Dread the Dawn—it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. The fact that the vocals are so fucking loud only makes it worse.

I rarely work without music playing but I found myself actively having to turn off Cassius King in order to work. Within two songs of Dread the Dawn starting, I would get irritable, irate and completely lose the ability to concentrate on what I was doing. It’s very rare that I take a set against an album quite as much as I did against Dread the Dawn. Doubtless, some people will disagree with my take but I found the recurring formula of this album mind-numbing and soul-destroying. Feeling much longer than its 49 minutes, I just wanted my time with Cassius King to end. And now that it has, I feel like a weight has lifted.

Note: Just to really finish things off, I have been utterly unable to find anything playable to embed here. So I have embedded a video that you can’t listen to yet because the band has decided—for reasons—to premiere it four days after Dread the Dawn releases. And no, you can’t hear any advance tracks on their Bandcamp page either.

 


Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: MDD Records
Websites: cassiusking.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/cassiusking
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2022

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