With their unique, evocative take on the genre’s tropes and outspoken anti-fascist stance, Dawn Ray’d are arguably the most refreshing and important black metal band around today. Following their sterling debut EP ‘A Thorn, A Blight’, the Liverpudlian trio have just released one of our favourite albums of the year in ‘The Unlawful Assembly’, combining the atmospherics of Wolves In The Throne Room with the folky strains of early Ulver and a raw, righteously punky anger that is all their own. We caught up with vocalist/violinist Simon Barr to discuss the making of the album, the band’s past, present and future, and the best way to kick Nazis out of metal…
Could you tell us briefly how Dawn Ray’d came into existence?
“Our previous band came to a natural end, and me and Fabian [Devlin, guitar] had talked about doing a straight up black metal band for a while. The moment we decided to end our old band I rang Matthew [Broadley, drums] immediately and asked him if he wanted to do a black metal band, and he said yes! We booked our first show in London before we had even written enough songs for a live show. We worked pretty fast and hard at it, and haven’t really slowed down since.”
Did you have a specific sound in mind when you formed the band, or did that grow and evolve as you played together? Was it a conscious decision to forego bass from the beginning, or was it more out of circumstance?
“We knew we wanted to do a straight up black metal band, our last band combined a lot of different genres but we wanted to move away from that and do something more straight forward. I’ve been playing violin in bands for a while so that came quite naturally into the song writing. We started writing the songs as just the three of us, we never decided to forego it intentionally, but as the songs started to come together we realised we had a really nice dynamic with the three of us, and adding in another element could have risked that, so we kept it a three piece. That is also quite common in black metal I guess, so it didn’t seem odd or lacking in anyway.”
What kind of stuff are you and the rest of the band into? Who would you cite as influences?
“We have quite a definite idea of what this band should sound like, so I guess some reference points would be Rotting Christ, Cult Of Fire, Ulver, and some neo-folk as well, bands like Rome and Sangre De Muerdago. but we all come from slightly different points as well. I’ve been listening to a lot of Phrenelith, Havukruunu, Nechochwen and Blood Incantation. Matthew is into a lot of straight up black and death metal; Neurosis, Venom, Weakling, Dragged Into Sunlight and a lot of classic rock, Fabian tells me he’s been listening to Ulver, Urfaust, Prurient and Lankum.”
Both yourself and Fabian played in We Came Out Like Tigers – how do the two projects compare in your mind? Both utilise violin within the context of heavy, extreme music, but do you see Dawn Ray’d as an extension of WCOLT’s sound, or an entirely separate entity?
“There are obvious similarities, but I do see the two bands as entirely separate. I think Dawn Ray’d is much heavier and more developed, and also more explicitly political in its lyrics. We Came Out Like Tigers was a good reflection of where we were at that time, but it felt very concluded when it ended, I think we were all ready to try and do things differently. The instruments and members are the same, but conceptually I feel like they are worlds apart.“
How does your writing process normally work out? Will you meet up with song ideas pretty much fully formed beforehand, or do you tend to jam stuff out a bit more?
“We have a definite way of writing songs, Fabian will have a rough song structure on guitar, and Matthew will go through it and make some changes or give more emphasis and drama to certain parts of the songs, or extend the more stand-out or triumphant riffs. We write pretty short and concise songs, we definitely never jam or improvise any parts, everything is very considered and deliberate. My lyrics are always written separately before I’ve heard the songs, essentially as poems, and I’ll try and match the feel or anger levels of each set of lyrics to the songs Fabian has come up with.”
What can you tell us about your debut full-length, ‘The Unlawful Assembly’? Did you do anything differently during the writing/recording process compared to the ‘A Thorn, A Blight’ EP?
“We tried to make it all more focused and developed, I think it is more triumphant sounding, and also a lot angrier, a lot less sad or pensive. The songs and the lyrics really came together well, I think the drums sound very hard and brutal, there are a few moments where they feel like blunt hammer blows, which works really nicely over the more malicious lyrical moments! We had decided before we wrote the record that we wanted to develop the folk elements, so we have some fully fledged folk songs, I did some clean singing on there for the first time.”
What do the lyrical themes deal with this time around?
“Almost all the songs are explicitly political, with most of the songs dealing with specific struggles that we care about. We have songs about prison abolition, our opposition to borders, anti-fascism, a critique of voting, the horrid abuses of the catholic church (and all churches for that matter), and a song that I based on all the conversations we’ve had about anarchism, why we became and remain anarchist.”
One of the many things I find refreshing about Dawn Ray’d is your outspoken political stance, especially in a genre like black metal, which is usually apathetic at best and downright bigoted at worst. Why do you think it is that black metal, more than other metal subgenres, seems to attract fascism, and what can we do to combat this?
“I don’t know, that’s a tricky question. I think in the early ’90s a lot of bands were using any shocking imagery they could get hold of, just to be controversial. That’s the problem with giving a platform to ideas like fascism, for some bands it was just to shock, but a lot of other people saw that as genuine and all of sudden black metal was quickly aligning itself with the far-right. It can be combated though for sure, loads of the Graveland shows in the US and Canada were cancelled and disrupted, which sends an important message to other bands; its not worth toying with those ideas, it will make your life miserable.
“I do believe the far-right aspect of black metal is a very small minority, however a big problem is the wider scene’s tolerance of those ideas, and failure so far to crush them. With a growing far right globally, I think people are being forced to look directly into the eyes of white supremacy, and all of sudden it doesn’t seem so easy to stomach or excuse. Pick a side and fight like hell!”
Do you think music still has the power to inspire and bring about real political change, or do you see it more as a way to vent?
“It’s hard to know I guess, for me I find it very inspiring, every time I hear the line ‘How does it make you feel to know that you voted for this?’ by Propagandhi, it affirms everything I believe about trusting politicians. I have a friend who isn’t white who has experienced a lot of racism in the metal scene, even from the bands themselves (Deströyer 666 were particularly horrid to her). She stopped going to shows because of the negative experiences she had, but recently went to a huge extreme metal fest and was really stoked to see a few different people wearing the anti-Nazi Napalm Death shirts, it was a really visible reminder that everyone is welcome in the scene, and that most people are decent and good. Bands like Napalm Death are so important, as a reminder to everyone that to be anti-fascist and to be into metal go hand in hand. That t-shirt has had a very powerful and important impact.
“I think political songs can be very positive in a lot of different ways, they are about issues that affect our daily lives, and when they are about the right things, they are about people wanting to make the world a better place. I find it hard to see what people have against that. Songs about ‘Lord Of The Rings’ are great, so are songs about anti-fascism.”
What’s been your best moment as a band? And on the flipside, what’s been your worst?
“We have had loads of great experiences so far, its hard to put one above the rest! Playing No Sanctuary Festival in Croatia was pretty magical, the banner getting torn down three times amid the chaos of the basement show in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fun, playing some shows with Venom Prison earlier this year was great… we have had a lot of pretty cool experiences so far! I try to never be too ungrateful on tour, there are days in this band that are hard, getting long haul flights sucks, doing ten hour drives to get home from tour is always tough, getting ill on tour or just being really tired when you first arrive at a show can all feel difficult, but I always try and remind myself that I am there because I want to be, you have to take the rough with the smooth! I am fortunate enough to be able to be in a band at all.”
What does the future have in store for Dawn Ray’d?
“We are releasing our new record and then touring it in Europe and the UK, and then will hopefully be back in the US again next year. We just want to play as many shows as possible and see where this takes us!”
‘The Unlawful Assembly’ is available here
You can find Dawn Ray’d on Facebook
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