Review Summary: Dawnbringer bring more Nucleus, this time with a tale to tell.
Even though I've been listening to heavy metal for years, I still sometimes feel like an outsider looking in. I don't have any tats and at my most ferocious I'm only a Mark E. Smith-like curmudgeon. Sometimes it feels like you get into metal in high school or you're forever a visiting hipster.
I even started to doubt my love, wondering whether I was only into metal superficially; self-consciously padding my indie playlists with metal to bolster my eclectic image. And then Nucleus dropped in 2010.
Without expounding too much on that record, I will describe it as the moment when Dawnbringer clicked. Dawnbringer is Chris Black's (formerly of Nachtmystium and a bunch of other projects) oldest running project and it had already produced a handful of great records before 2010. But Nucleus lengthened the songs, let them breathe and gave a new epic focus to the vocal tracks. It was my favorite metal album that year and maybe my favorite album of any genre.
Into the Lair of the Sun God picks up musically from its predecessor but adds an ongoing narrative and thematic cohesion to the project. The story being told here is a little trite, but you didn't come to Dawnbringer for story time. Yes, this is a concept album, but despite this conceit, the focus here is always on the high-energy riffing.
The tracks are all numbered, further cementing the idea that each is part of the whole. On the opener, a brief choral intro gives way to what we all wanted to hear: chugging, fast-paced metal.
Dawnbringer tends to stay around 130 bpm, with rollicking sixteenth notes, minor keys and searing solos from guitarists Matt Johnsen and Scott Hoffman. It is a little formulaic, but like any good genre writer, Chris Black justifies every cliché with his terrific writing.
The lyrics are slightly corny, revealing the tale of a warrior who wishes to venture into the lair of the Sun God (where else). But really, the narrative helps push the music into overdrive even when the guitarists are slowly rolling on a breakdown.
Track “III” steals the galloping triplets from Iron Maiden but really demonstrates why that technique works: it offers a serious feeling of forward momentum and unstoppable power. The track slows toward the end with menacing snare rolls and chanting of the album's title.
While the stylistic shifts here are usually subtle, veering between slower, churning parts and pulse-quickening moments, “V” is unmistakably a power ballad. It is well-executed even as it risks sounding a little like a Poison track. Thankfully, this track doesn't overstay its welcome and ends short of five minutes.
Overall the album's biggest weakness is that on later tracks like “VIII,” the focus on the tale increases as the music slows to a churn. But by that point, you're kind of along for the ride, much the same as with King Diamond's seminal “Abigail.” And like that King Diamond album, the music here is quintessential Heavy Metal.
If you're looking for Black's more experimental work, Dawnbringer isn't the project for you. If you want head-banging metal executed with pinpoint precision, buy Into the Lair of the Sun God together with Nucleus. It may not have the best story ever told, but Black always redeems his excesses with raw talent.