Dawnbringer – Night Of The Hammer

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There are a number of North American bands dealing in traditional metal’s tropes that seem almost immune from criticism. San Francisco heroes like Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune are lauded for their songwriting expertise, and in recent years, it’s often seemed as if it’s become downright heresy to not wholeheartedly support Chicago-based Dawnbringer as well.

Founded in the late ‘90s by multi-instrumentalist Chris Black, Dawnbringer has been on the receiving end of an enormous amount of critical praise, and listening to the band’s new album, Night Of The Hammer, it certainly feels like you’ll need to hand in your metal-fan membership card if you don’t enjoy the contents therein. Dawnbringer are simply one of those bands that triumphantly celebrate everything that’s intrinsically metal about metal. The band pays tribute to a classic era, and while Black has other retro-metal musical ventures that distill the genre down to its purest essence—see the similarly applauded High Spirits—it’s Dawnbringer’s vintage flavoured victuals that have reaped the most acclaim.

Of course, there’s nothing original in paying homage to a time when bands like Saxon, Motörhead or Iron Maiden strode the land in their prime–and it’s a little disingenuous of me to suggest that everyone loves Dawnbringer’s take on those years. For some, the band’s galloping guitars and amps ablazing accent is simply derivative, and there are certainly those that find Black’s gruff vocals somewhat of an acquired taste. Still, vocal preferences aside, Dawnbringer’s hailing of the past doesn’t necessarily equate to the band being uninspired at all. Plenty of other bands sport a backpatched, bulletbelted, and NWOBHM-inspired sound that aims to evoke a bygone era. Yet, many of those same bands forgo any finesse, and end up lost in a maze of pastiche and parody.

There’s none of that with Dawnbringer. The band deals in reverent, honest, and archetypal anthemic metal, like that found on the band’s first albums to receive widespread recognition, 2010’s Nucleus and 2012’s Into The Lair Of The Sun God. Issued via label Profound Lore, both of those albums had a much higher profile than Dawnbringer’s previous releases, and Into The Lair Of The Sun God was a magnificent piece of conceptual chronicling that deservedly featured on many best-album lists at the end of 2012.

Night Of The Hammer dispenses with many of the bombastic motifs and dramatic heights that Into The Lair Of The Sun God firmly latched onto. The album is still loud and proud, but Black shows he’s earned his scholarly “Professor Black” nickname by digging further into metal’s history as he strips things down on Night Of The Hammer to bring more proto-metal and heavy-ass ’70s hard rock to the fore.Dawnbringer - Night Of The Hammer

Classic ‘80s metal spells are still woven on tracks like “Hands of Death” and the dark ballad “One-Eyed Sister”. But as melodic and rockin’ as tracks like “The Burning Of Home”, “Crawling Off To Die”, and “Damn You” are, they feature a much heavier presence of prototypical doom metal. That’s not the only change you’ll find on Night Of The Hammer. Black also launches into full-on Mercyful Fate mode with the falsetto highs of “Funeral Child”. “Not Your Night” provides a blackened speed metal riot. And there’s no question that songs like “Alien”, “Nobody There”, and the album’s absolute highlight, “Xiphias”, are influenced as much by classic rock as they are by classic metal.

There are moments throughout Night Of The Hammer where more straightforward (albeit still heavy) rock bleeds into all the muscle-bound metal. That same approach worked wonders on High Spirits’ last album, You Are Here, which was all the better for introducing a hearty dose of ’80s rock into the mix. While Black hasn’t injected any AOR into Night Of The Hammer like he did on You Are Here, he certainly sounds more confident vocally as he did on that album.

Those raw bursts of doomier rock and proto-metal on Night Of The Hammer will no doubt satisfy Dawnbringer’s fans. However, this is a darker release overall–less immediate and upbeat than expected–and Black’s vocals, which, as mentioned, have proven polarising for some, feature even higher in the mix. The blast beat barrage of “Not Your Night” might feel ill-fitted to the rest of the album as well, and following that track with Black’s King Diamond mimicry on “Funeral Child” is sure to be a jolting experience for some.

That said, while you could point at those elements above as being problematic, you could also see them as Black injecting more multifaceted songwriting into Night Of The Hammer’s overall musical arc. That certainly ensures the album doesn’t become bogged down in any stylistic rut, and it admirably highlights that Black isn’t simply repeating more of the same, or resting on any past laurels.

Ultimately, for those who enjoy quintessential and classic metal, Night Of The Hammer is sure to be a total blast. The album is doomier and gloomier than Dawnbringer’s past efforts, but Black’s still crafted engaging and hook-filled songs. He’s proven, yet again, that there’s still plenty of enjoyable music to be mined from the old school quarries. But, best of all, while Night Of The Hammer might well be born from halcyon days, there’s nothing dated about the energy, exuberance, and abundant talent on display therein.

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