Dawn Ray’d – ‘To Know the Light’ 

Dawn Ray’d
To Know the Light
Union Jacks

Dawn Ray’d have been bucking against black metal’s conventions since 2015, but have always been adept at cherry-picking the genre’s best bits for their own purposes: feral aggression, bombast, icy melodies and raw delivery. The band’s latest effort sees them continuing along the path forged by 2019’s Behold Sedition Plainsong, but taking a markedly more melodic direction. Here, Dawn Ray’d employ the grandiosity of folk metal to tell their tales of toil and resistance, and draw on its members’ broad musical talents to build something sturdy, stylish and truly beautiful.

All three pull double or triple duty here, with Simon Barr on vocals, violin and synths, guitarist Fabian Devlin jumping in on backing vocals, and drummer Matthew Broadley adding piano and harmonium. Those sonorous clean vocals from Barr and Devlin mark some of the album’s most compelling moments, like the breathtaking a cappella harmonies “Requital” and the deceptively lovely “Freedom in Retrograde”—lyrics like “fuck every prison and fuck the bastards that put us in them” have never sounded prettier.

The homegrown folk traditions of Northern England, with its wild moors, centuries of worker struggle and post-industrial rot, are alive in songs like the frosty, contemplative “Ancient Light” and fierce album opener “The Battle of Sudden Flame,” which marry those lilting traditional melodies with black metal’s harsh urgency. (Imagine if a Hammerheart-era Quorthon had started volunteering for his local anarchist infoshop, joined a union, then gone back in time to write the soundtrack for the original Wicker Man—that’s the vibe). This is folk metal at its best and most true: metal for the people, those who have lived, worked, and died together under the same system and the same boots, and still managed to create art, music, community and rebellion in the hope of building a better world.

Review taken from the May 2023 issue of Decibel, which is available here.