Review Summary: Going into the unknown in a known genre.
By most accounts, post-metal is a genre that has been thoroughly explored. Any given attempt at atmosphere by a typical collective is a borrowed aesthetic; no immersion occurs due to its lack of veracity. It may certainly exist in the contents of the record, but any endeavor to craft an emotional payoff is forfeit, as such a reward has already been reaped countless times over. The power possessed by U.K. crew Dawnwalker in this scenario is that, despite performing a category considered to be solved, their studio product maintains a fresh quality frequently absent from nascent outfits. Having now embarked upon a third release cycle, experience and gradual unity between members are amplified, displaying a songwriting maturity worthy of attention. Part of what assists in this manner is written directly by the London quartet themselves on their personal bandcamp page, and it is in this virtual etching that the mission statement of the Brits is uncovered:
“There are no two Dawnwalker records which sound the same…”
It’s the sort of descriptor an advertising campaign would fawn over, yet it cannot be denied that the band behind its declaration walk the talk; not one of their forays have intersected in a particularly egregious manner. Rather than excavating an empty mine, the group intentionally migrates to a different site on their next album, never vying to chase down a dried gold vein for success. In doing so, it’s a difficult task to predict where Dawnwalker will travel to, and it doubtlessly has contributed to a body of work that has quietly demonstrated a burgeoning skillset. Shifting constantly forces an equally continuous creative mindset that doesn’t rely on prior releases as a crutch; what worked before can’t be assured to translate ideally into a novel arena. Latest effort Ages
positions the cooperative in potentially their most adventurous state to date as the elongated track listings of yore are discarded. In their place stand four titanic numbers that display an obscure gang at a current high point in their career.
Piling in what 13 songs previously accomplished into a handful of extensive formations is an ambitious project to commence. Ideas run the risk of being underutilized or unfortunately abused until a premature expiration. Impressively, during the 56-minute odyssey of Ages
, the only enduring sensation is not one of tedium or apathy, but of a steadfast wonderment. The contents of this disc are far from the realm of the ordinary, with the group concocting a post-metal adventure that implements touches of folk and the ferocity of sudden black metal outbursts. It is, in short, a sort of fantasy world—a lush canvas populated by colorful characters, stunning environments, and a compelling appearance of narrative that entices a listener to delve further still, escaping deep into the soothing nadirs of mystique portrayed in wax. There’s no second wasted as Dawnwalker unfurl their intensely atmospheric approach, aided heavily by a dreamy, shoegaze-esque production that causes proceedings to drift blissfully, simultaneously accentuating those thrilling flashes where heaviness unexpectedly enters the fray. Guitars, while polished enough when ascending to melodic tenors, own a fuzzy sort of feel that introduces slightly more grit to proceedings, preventing the venture from becoming too lost in a haze or too clean to appreciate as something mystical. Internally, the songs fashioned for the LP alter themselves much like how the collective as a whole does, linking separate portions to others with an idyllic flow. This attention to detail makes descending into the chronicle of the album unavoidable; the graceful progression of tunes, and the way they are inserted into the entirety of the experience, constructs a book where the audience eagerly tugs away at the following page, pursuing the next crescendo or heartening soundscape. Harsh motifs and their softer counterparts merge, outlining a setting grappling with conflict but also relishing in its natural beauty.
Divided by a series of interludes, the primary four entries of Ages
, each spanning across territories grander than 10 minutes, each resonate as an epic tale in a broader anthology. Following a swell of ambient noise, the album proper begins in “The Wheel,” soft strumming and restrained percussion ushering in youthful clean vocals. Piece by piece, the track begins to accumulate momentum, the lead guitar busting out a sturdy melody as a flute gently chirps in the background. A three-part vocal harmony blossoms into a more progressive metal section, the strings intertwined with each other as the drumming hastens the tempo, an instrumental explosion terminating in incredibly raw screams, their effectiveness augmented considerably since Human Ruins
. Black metal swiftly takes hold of the reins while the band assaults the listener with furious blast beats. Despite already covering significant ground, Dawnwalker execute these transitions gracefully, the calm perfectly offset by its antagonist, punctuating the bass-supported chugging that invades the number. It is possibly the most weight the group has thus far committed to, and it pays off in dividends; the thunderous climax of the song—a rising melody severed by those violent black metal tendencies—is evidence enough of its success. If further proof was required, the absolute confidence wielded in the subsequent “Ancient Sands" is an ideal supporting argument. The resounding tremolo that climbs to the forefront, its anthemic might strutting to the summit of the track, is an awesome moment to behold, the gradual upsurge and pounding drums immeasurably boosting the authority the riff exudes. Charging headfirst into energetic percussion, the adrenaline radiating from these thrilling passages only heightens, bounding between tranquility and the darkness that fights against it. How the creation manages to evolve is a stunning example of Dawnwalker’s expertise at structuring, endlessly supplying intrigue underneath a mystical aura, the sound rising and falling fittingly to match the desired mood.
This songwriting exemplifies an expanded scope in the dual threat of “Burning World” and “Colony / A Gathering.” In these instances, the band focuses intently on aesthetic, their focus placed squarely upon developing post-metal expeditions. This inevitably places an increased emphasis upon the strength of the collective’s control over expressive impact, relying upon dynamic arrangements to hit beats correctly without the black metal shock value to add on. The gents are more than up to the task in the former entry, the impetus of its march embodied in undemonstrative guitar playing, a distant melody arching overhead as the tune gentles pulses onward. Reverberating clean vocals dominate the gazey feel of the artefact, the cloudy production imbuing a healthy amount of static as the biting screams return to the fold. Filing into its second half, a sludgy riff overtakes proceedings, intimidating growls complimenting the slow transformation into darker scenery. This patient conversion is delicately paced in the opening of the creation to make the ensuing apex all the more earned. The lyrical contributions—steeped in spiritual-esque prose adequately suited for this magical plane—match dire instrumental content, illustrating a bleak portrait that decays in the waning seconds of the song. Serenity is revisited in the latter track, delicate symbol tapping gently pushing the number as calming timbres cascade around the choir-like singing. Much of the composition is spent in this peaceful domain, establishing a hint of urgency through each motion, adding a lurking unease as the intensity steadily escalates. Erupting in the middle of the mounting tension is a brief flute solo to exhibit a window back to stillness. Competing elements of restlessness and steadiness are explored regularly in these cases, and Dawnwalker performs admirably to balance them appropriately.
As concise of a record as Ages
is capable of being, it is not without a choice selection of faults, the majority of which are confined in the aforementioned “Colony / A Gathering.” Due to the nature of the album’s production, total bedlam is not its most dependable trait; as such, the weighty dissolution occurring in the finale doesn’t impact quite as hard as it could. The nature of the composition in of itself—droning riffs are employed liberally—lends to a dip in value that otherwise is not observed on the disc. Subtleties are absent in place of a fairly linear avenue. Transitions, most notably before the flute solo, are awkwardly accomplished, whereas fellow entries demonstrated superior regulation over their songwriting decisions. Because Dawnwalker condensed their concepts into four key cuts, having a missed shot in those ranks can be damaging overall. By the sheer enjoyability and cohesion of the majority of this third effort, however, the concluding result is one of unquestionable amazement. The highlights that the U.K. crew present are exemplary contributions to the post-metal catalog. Buoyed by a beguiling atmosphere, the prevailing arrangement talents of the London men shine lustrously, breathing life into a supernatural era where guitars race about as heroes or strike down viciously as foes. A magnum opus emerges in the guise of the commanding “Ancient Sands,” definitely validating the risks Ages
took. Now active since 2012, it’s evident that Dawnwalker have become comfortable in their practice—a tactic where the practice itself is infinitely redefining itself, challenging the collective behind it to meet new expectations each attempt. Normally, improving off of a resolute foundation would be the logical succeeding step. Instead, for this quartet, their next path should unavoidably be an entirely new venture that cannot be projected. When accounting for the expanding discography the band is cultivating, there is a single variable that can be guaranteed: undisputable eminence.