Chris Black (A.K.A. Professor Black) is an entire music scene unto himself. He’s played with Pharaoh, Superchrist and Nachtmystium as well as being the founder of Dawnbringer, High Spirits and Aktor. Now he’s releasing not one, not two, but three new albums under the Professor Black brand, all on the same day, all with vastly different styles and intents. Because I’m powerful and full of Viking ape rage, I took Sunrise, which is a lovingly trve ode to Bathory‘s Viking era, as well as classic metal artists like Running Wild and W.A.S.P.. That may sound a bit strange on paper, but it sure as hell works on vinyl. That’s because Sunrise is a big ole’ hunk of macho metal nostalgia that’ll make you want to sack villages up and down the coast of your nearest body of navigable water. Can you hear that strange noise? It’s the sound of your chest (and back) hair growing from mere proximity to this review. Imagine what will happen when you actually spin the album. Prepare for the REAL Black Album.
The good Professor leaves no vintage tarot card unplayed on brave and bold opener “Die By the Sun.” It’s like a trve metal starter kit, containing all the essential balms and lotions from Bathory‘s monumental Viking opus, Hammerheart, as well as the essence of Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road, and of course, Dawnbringer. The mighty, majestic riffing and Viking chanting will change a man. After a few minutes of involuntary chest thumping, you’ll find yourself oiling your blade of vengeance by a flickering fire on an inky black night, dreaming of a rich consommé made from the blood and toenails of your enemies. Black’s clean vocals are hale and hearty, only adding to the blood fever. It’s a Wotan-worthy battle song and I love it. Followup “In the Fire and the Rain” keeps the climb to Valhalla on schedule, channeling the classic Quorthon style of epic riffing, while snaking bits of Cirith Ungol into the harmonies to great effect.
Then things take a stylistic shift. “No Way Back” borrows a lot from W.A.S.P.‘s bag of tricks, which is to say, it has a sharp 70s rock vibe which is then bent to fit a metal construct. It sounds like a lost cut from The Crimson Idol at first, but the vocals eventually bring it back around toward Dawnbringer‘s wheelhouse. “Gathering Stone” almost over-borrows from “Hocus Pocus” by Focus before settling into a pounding Hammerheart-esque march to war with Thor replete with epical chanting. The album high point is the ominous, doomy darkness of “Everyone Knows,” which sounds like the brother song to Dawnbringer‘s “One Eyed Sister.” This is a tune Ereb Altor should have written years ago, and I’m just glad someone finally did. Black’s vocals are at their very best here, sounding menacing and edgy.
At a slim, trim 43 minutes, Sunrise is a fast blast. Only closer “You and I” feels less epic, but it’s far from filler. The songs are the ideal length with none overstaying their welcome. If anything I find myself wishing several tracks were longer because they’re so much fun. Black plays all the instruments as well as handling vocals and does a bang up job. His guitar-tone is right off Hammerheart as is the basic approach to the riffing – simple, bigger-than-life leads that feel like they’re perpetually building toward something even grander. These will get you geeked up, even if you’re a bloodless nerd boy who couldn’t win a fight with an stoned hamster. The solos and harmonies borrow from Thin Lizzy and Cirith Ungol in equal measure for just the right amount of old school cred, and a lot of the guitar-work is catchy as hell. Black’s vocals are much like they were on Dawnbringer albums like Into the Lair of the Sun God, and though they may be a bit of an acquired taste, they suit these songs exceptionally well. The whole package is hyper-trve and uber-memorable, and that takes some seriously high-level alchemy to pull off.
I’ve long been a fan of Chris Black’s various and sundry projects, but I’m rabid for his Dawnbringer material, and this is like that jacked up on Red Bull and Bathory salts. If you worship Hammerheart and/or Dawnbringer, Sunrise was made for you with loving care. Yes, it’s essentially a novelty homage to bygone times, but it’s a slick, endearing and infectious one, so unsheathe the sword, walk the dogs of war and prepare for blood, fire, death and Blackie Lawless.