Pyres become beacons as flames rise with a dangerously bright burn, lick the sky, and drape the green banks of the Sava river in a majestic red glow. It’s a transporting and defiant occasion: the roaring fires ignite our inner blaze and unite us in remembrance of Partisans like my grandfather that on May 8th, 1945 freed Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, from occupying Nazi (and collaborationist) forces. These memories of the Trnje bonfires flicker in my mind while I listen to Behold Sedition Plainsong, the second full-length of Liverpool black metal trio Dawn Ray’d. Because this is a music of awakening that sweeps away the waters of Lethe meant to make us forget what the liberation from occupation and similar historic moments stood for then and today. Reactionary forces gain strength and fight an insidious war against the heritage of antifascism. They exploit the failings of capitalism and its social fallout to point the finger at the eternal other. They recycle tyrannical ideas and repackage them into edgy, “freethinking” rhetoric. “Nazism is in the past, you fools,” they write with one hand, while the other rises into a Roman salute. “The only fascists are in your head,” they shout as their grimacing faces wink to each other. But Dawn Ray’d compel us to remember. Dawn Ray’d once again light the fires of revolt.
From the call to arms of the introductory canticle “Raise the Flails” to the anguished closing anthem “The Curse, the Dappled Light,” Behold Sedition Plainsong carries a scream of “¡NO PASARÁN!” in each blast beat, riff, and growl. Dawn Ray’d’s righteously angry and impassioned style is painfully necessary, fueled by the projected voices of the oppressed and the helpless. On “The Smell of Ancient Dust,” Simon B.’s fiery violin envelops black metal crescendos with a grandiose feeling. It gifts the cut, and most of the album, a propulsive momentum and channels it through a mosaic of solemnity, sorrow, and rebellion reminiscent of Partisan songs. “Comfort has led us to this hibernation / The struggle, less visible, has allowed us to forget,” they warn us: we don’t fight because we want to, but because we need to.
The eleven swift tracks alternate between black metal attacks and atmospheric interludes led by the violin’s mournful cries, often lost amid streams of acoustic guitar strums. The black metal barrages are especially inspired, focused on the exchanges of Fabian D.’s harmonious tremolos and Matthew B.’s disarming drum cadences. They frame the band’s stirring lyrics and explicit dialectics, which Simon B. delivers with conviction, standing sharp against pseudo-intellectual despotism. This becomes evident when the crunchy guitar strikes, booming blast beats, jolts of growled and screamed vocals, and the violin’s indomitable legatos raise their voices against worker exploitation on “To All, to All, to All!” It becomes painful when “A Time for Courage at the Borderlands” directs a punch in the gut of today’s increasingly xenophobic Europe and mourns refugees left to die on invisible borders. Finally, it becomes urgent as the mid-tempo hymn “Salvation Rite” muses about ecosystems crumbling under the pressure of the industrial machine.
Viewed from a distance, Behold Sedition Plainsong is a well-written and performed, but not flawless record—an unwelcome repetition here, a muddier section there—that owes its humanity exactly to the occasional cracks left behind by powerful messages. And while their themes might have more in common with punk and hardcore bands like Downtown Boys and Cliterati or crust influenced black metallers Iskra and Ancst, Dawn Ray’d indulge in a riotously traditionalist sort of black metal; melodious and folksy at times, raw at others, but always subverting of the genre’s dominant signifiers. Through flirting with the tropes of such an orthodox genre, each tune implicitly births an affront to the ubiquitous apologetics of neo-reactionary views and cowardly dog-whistle politics in the black metal scene.
If 2017’s The Unlawful Assembly was a furious “call to arms” and collection of “battle hymns for the coming class war,” then Behold Sedition Plainsong is the weapon for a harsher and harder offensive. The time to act is now and with Dawn Ray’d’s eternal fire on our side, we will never go fucking gently into the night.