Dawnwalker – House of Sand Review

Dawnwalker have been around since 2011, but my first exposure to them didn’t happen until a mere couple of years ago, courtesy of this very blog. I was able to review Ages, the band’s fourth full-length release and compliment it on its well-done blend of progressive, death, and folk-like metal into one monolithic beast of an album. If words like those excite you, though, you should know that Dawnwalker do not stay in the same place for long—House of Sand is nothing like that, but don’t let that get you down. For their fifth full-length, the English band explore some new sounds, revisit old ones, and build out their album in a frankly beautiful way.

But first, what is it about House of Sand that is so very different from its predecessor? The easy answer is that the metal has been dialed back some, but that’s far from the whole picture. You might hear a song like the gorgeous “Standing Stones,” all piano and echoes and haunting verses, and think you’re listening to a work of melancholy rock. You could listen to “Egypt,” where chilling verses segue into massive riffs and blistering screams and think you’re listening to promising progressive metal. Or you might find yourself listening to “House of Sand” and think it’s the weirdest Tom Petty tune you’ve ever heard.1 The metal is heavy, the rock is melancholic, and the whole exists in this odd space between the two; it’s not all metal, not quite rock, and not really experimental. Named influences include Pink Floyd and Radiohead, but the end result is unmistakably Dawnwalker.

One of the more interesting tidbits offered by the promotional copy for House of Sand is the idea that the band “wanted to get away from the overproduced sound of modern metal and computer-generated artifice;” that the band used no synths and chose to “make a feature of their imperfections rather than airbrush them away.” Now, normally I don’t bother quoting promo material—it’s usually nonsense anyway—but this time it manages to hit upon a quality of this album that I find otherwise hard to put into words: it feels organic. It’s especially present in the interludes, these one-to-two-minute tracks that pop up throughout the album with dark, almost eerie melodies, sardonic, dry narrations, and some of the more crushing riffs on the album (“The Prisoner” is way too good to be only 1:38). Interludes on metal albums? Bah and humbug, you may say—but not here. Something about the way Dawnwalker has approached House of Sand, with underproduced, quiet, non-intrusive (but still effective) editing makes the album feel fresh and natural at all times.

House of Sand is not a very exciting album, but manages to remain engaging through nearly the entirety of its 43-minute runtime, largely because Dawnwalker seem to have a great sense of what constitutes too much. Harsh vocals are used rarely, but very effectively, in the towering, thunderous climax of “Coming Forth by Day” and massive ending on “House of Sand II.” The vocalists (of which there are four) use reverb, autotune, and chorus effects to enhance impassioned melodies, as on the superb “False Doors,” and wry storytelling (“The Master”). The guitars shift from simple, classical rock strumming and picking to massive riffs worthy of the staunchest of metal fans commonly throughout songs. A sense of dreariness is omnipresent, but the organic, effective presentation makes House of Sand paradoxically delightful anyway.

House of Sand is undoubtedly meant to be consumed as a whole album. The natural flow from song to song, culminating in the quiet, introspective “Mildew” creates a journey that has thrown me for a loop as I’ve struggled to review it. It is so different from what I was expecting, and so different from my usual fare, that I’ve spent weeks trying to figure out exactly how much I like the thing. That I did like it was next in question though—Dawnwalker have created something really special with House of Sand, a powerful, emotional album that revels in its own quietude and strikes hardest when you least expect.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Room 1322
Websites: dawnwalker.uk | dawnwalker.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/dawnwalkeruk
Releases Worldwide: August 19th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Let me know if you think I’m crazy, but that’s all I can think of when I hear that song.
  2. No link to be found; as I understand it, this is the band’s own label.
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