By Brian Krasman
We live in a time where every other metal band is paying homage to an era gone by. Just look at the classic thrash revival, for instance. But many of the bands are aping styles they’ve grown to love or, let’s face it, jumping aboard a fiery bandwagon, so the listener rarely feels pulled into the timeframe from which the music draws its inspiration. The music doesn’t actually go to that place, it just offers up a resemblance. Nothing wrong with that, except for the hollowness that often stands in as the aftertaste.
There are exceptions. Christian Mistress is one. Hammers of Misfortune is another. And now there’s Dawnbringer, the 15-year-old project helmed by Chris Black who, if metal followers know him at all likely recognize him as Nachtmystium’s primary lyricist and man behind the shadows in the studio. But he’s prolific, having played with Superchrist, Pharoah and High Spirits, and it’s high time that more people come to know who he is and why he’s so important to the fabric of underground/independent/kvlt metal. “Nucleus,” the fourth full-length album from Dawnbringer (out now on Profound Lore), could be what gets him there and catapults this band into more people’s CD collections.
What greets listeners on this amazingly infectious nine-track album is music that doesn’t just sound like NWOBHM/’70s doom rock, but walks in the same footsteps as those who built the genres. There is actual time travel for the listener that begins mere seconds into opener “So Much for Sleep,” with twin guitars riding high, surging into the body of the song that reveals its differences right away from the 2006 version of the band that kicked out “In Sickness and in Dreams.” Most noticeable are Black’s vocals, which no longer are an understated growl but instead have transformed into a steady, confident, clean wail that sounds lightly finished with a gravel touch. It’s a great decision Black made, as his voice is now unmistakable, where before he could have been any guy fronting a death metal band.
But it’s not all late ’70s aesthetic either. “The Devil” opens with a tricky thrash progression that comes off like something that would have been too cool for Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace,” and “Like an Earthquake,” quite naturally, is the heaviest thing on here. “You Know Me” and “All I See” (hey, they rhyme) actually have spots where they sound like current Nachtmystium, at least how the vocal patterns are structured, so perhaps that’s a closer look into just how ingrained Black is into that machine. “Cataract” blends doom folk seamlessly into classic power metal, rendering it one of the stickiest songs on here; while “Old Wizard” may make some chuckle at its absurdity, but my guess is Ronnie James Dio wouldn’t have been one of those people. Simply, it’s a killer song that, yeah, is a bit cheeky but never gives you an indication that Black and the boys are doing anything but taking its message seriously.
While this may sound contradictory to what was just written above, one drawback is the lyrics. Not what’s said, mind you, but how it’s said. Lines and rhyme schemes feel a little rudimentary, and really, that might just be my tastes. But I’ve always been a bigger fan of Black’s guitar work and imaginative songwriting and less so of his use of words, so I’ve always been able to ignore that personal hang-up. That’s no different here on “Nucleus,” an album that sounds like nothing else you’ll hear this year (or for some time, I’m guessing), a collection that could drive people away from plastic videogame guitars and back to real ones, and a statement that should etch Black’s name into your consciousness as one you absolutely must remember.