This month sees the re-release of Dawnwalker’s breakthrough 2018 album Human Ruins in an expanded and remastered edition. Described by the band as belonging to the genre of ‘green metal’ (nice one!), the album is comprised of emotive post-rock, serene acoustic passages and bursts of cathartic black metal. Expertly remixed by Joe Clayton of No Studio and remastered by Brad Boatright, the re-release has been lovingly retooled to maximise on the original’s promise.
For those who don’t know, Dawnwalker is an experimental metal band formed in London in 2012, featuring a revolving cast of musicians but spearheaded by lead songwriter Mark Norgate. Their music blends modern metal with melodic, folk and progressive influences into a sound all of their own
This album was followed in the same year by the Crestfallen EP and then 2019’s Ages album…both of which were wonderful. When reviewing Ages, I’d read elsewhere a description of this band as creating “the finest, and possibly the only, combination of shoe-gaze folk and a sprinkling of black metal” – a nice summation of an intriguing group of very talented musicians who offer something for everyone. I found Ages to be truly excellent from start to finish and went straight out after doing that review and bought Human Ruins – this band are seriously addictive! Fans of Steven Wilson will not be disappointed, nor should anyone else.
So – Human Ruins charts a journey across an ancient landscape over the course of a calendar year. It’s an epic journey through the seasons, guided by myth and magic, and the phases of the moon. “I wanted to capture the turning of the seasons, the cycles of night and day, flora and fauna” says Mark Norgate, best described as the songwriter and leader/coordinator of the revolving cast of talent that is Dawnwalker! “To recreate these moments of serene calm and starry-eyed wonder giving way to a mortal fear of unseen evils lurking in the dark.”
Musically the album draws from a rich colour palette, inspired as much by the eccentric British prog and indie of King Crimson, Porcupine Tree and Comus as it is by Scandi-Gods Opeth, Enslaved and US atmospheric black metal. “It was an attempt to celebrate the landscape and beauty of the British Isles, rich in colour and diversity.” Written throughout the 2010’s when the political landscape was “particularly bleak, grey and isolating – there’s no doubt that it was something of a reaction against that.”
For your spondulicks you get nigh on an hour’s worth of classy music, there being 13 tracks on this edition of the album. It opens with Pagan Plains, one of the band’s favourites that they revisited as an acoustic version on the Crestfallen EP. Here you get the full-on Metal original, vocalist Mark having this knack of sounding wistful,almost shoe-gaze in his projection, but in no way being submerged by the riffery. It’s a great track, blending punch, power and passion with melody and a tasty arrangement. This is a tight band in sync producing a class performance.
New Morning continues in the same Melodic Metal vein, I think it’s Mark also supplying the Scream vocals along the way, it’s an effective counterpoint in what is a sunny composition, delighting in the start of a new day. Horus is more obviously almost Occult-rock, atmospherically capturing the sense of midnight fire-lit rituals – a nice slab of Modern Celtic Pagan-Metal! The bridge sections also illustrate the ease with which Dawnwalker switch from full-on Metal to an almost folky ambience by way of tribal Metal, it’s an accomplished arrangement.
The Clearing strongly reminds me in retrospect of Kimono Drag Queens in the use of a tribal rhythm overlaid with this almost shoe-gaze, folky style of singing. It works for me, these songs are always full of tunefulness regardless of how heavy they might get. Golden Light continues in the same vein, celebrating the warmth of Spring whilst tipping a nod to the inevitable. It’s a simple song but has an impressive vibe.
Fallow is very redolent of Porcupine Tree, the composition skilfully moves between pastoral and heavy, replete with what you might call a soft-scream vocal. A really strong track. Branches follows, at eight and a half minutes this is the longest track in what is a set of relatively short numbers by Dawnwalker’s more recent standards. The track describes the passing of the year as we become aware of a change in the air, winds getting up, the nights drawing closer. Musically, it starts relatively slowly, becoming beefier and darker in tone – I do find Dawnwalker’s music very adept at conveying nature In The Raw within a mostly Metal style that never becomes overwhelming/boring!
In the world of monsters, a Waldgeist is a sort of undead spirit of a destroyed tree, that becomes a guardian of the forest, possessing power over the plants within its boundaries and seeking vengeance for environmental abuse, such as pollution and deforestation. I rather suspect this is what Mark is writing about, rather than an apparently famous race-horse! The track Waldgeist is a relatively short instrumental, conveying that sense of malevolence?
Into The Night is another touch of Autumnal seasonality change, cast with a Celtic/Pagan flavour perhaps, but also with a sense of a lost wanderer making his own way. I get that connection with Mother Nature from Dawnwalker, within what I’ve already described as a great blend of Metal, Prog, Ambient, Tribal, Psych-rock…the list goes on but it’s a tasty cauldron of Good Things – they’re great story-tellers/composers!
Abyss is another example of how Dawnwalker’s arrangements wash over you, immersing you in the moment. We’re getting towards the end of the year here, but we go boldly onwards. White Winds is another short track, quite different from the pastoral vibe created by the last three numbers, it’s more raw, wintery (as the title suggests) Scream vocals enhancing the effect, and still maintaining a sense of mysticism. Between Worlds and Kelross (The Passage) bring the album to an end, and also use a blend of psych-rock and a tribal/mystical mood to signify the end of yearly cycles, life cycles, whilst heralding new beginnings….
The overall effect of the album is a fresh blast of progressive metal, perhaps inspired by the new growth of spring, that blows the cobwebs away while still belting out some great tunes! This earlier album perhaps has slightly less light and shade compared to their more recent work in Ages and House Of Sand, but I do love the overall mysticism vibe, enhanced by some inspired arrangements. These guys are genuinely talented storytellers! I think I’ve said before that there are no two Dawnwalker records that sound the same, but each creates its own world with its own sense of place, characters and mysteries for listeners to immerse themselves in….
I can also reveal that….in celebration of the release, Dawnwalker will shortly head out on their first tour of the UK in a co-headliner with Edinburgh-based heavy shoegaze outfit HEALTHYLIVING and hand-picked supports from across the UK’s rich metal underground -sounds fun!
Dec 7th – The Pit, Newport (+ GOAT MAJOR)
Dec 8th – Retro, Manchester (+ DEATHBLOOM)
Dec 9th – Flying Duck, Glasgow (+ CWFEN)
Dec 10th – Black Heart, London (+ CODEX SERAFINI)
Tickets and info: https://linktr.ee/dawnwalkeruk