Metal is a bit like jazz or prog rock, in that it makes broader allowances for certain indulgences that are much harder pull off in rock `n’ roll. Albums comprising four monumental songs or less? Absolutely. Complicated and pretentious conceptual threads? Of course. Songs titled in a numerical sequence, indicating each is a small piece of a greater whole? You bet. Without that penchant for impossibly lofty ambition, metal wouldn’t be half as fun as it is, though it also might have such a high barrier of entry for outsiders looking to dive in. Chicago’s Dawnbringer, however, has built a bridge between the most accessible and progressive strains of heavy metal, thus offering up a satisfying compromise to both die-hards and dilettantes.
Dawnbringer’s third album, Into the Lair of the Sun God, bears all the characteristics of an epic and ostentatious prog-metal album, from Roman-numerals-only track titles, to its plotline, which concerns an assassin’s journey and subsequent downfall. All of this being said, Sun God is a remarkably catchy album, one that finds the band placing a high premium on melody and strong songwriting. Somewhere between vintage Maiden, Blue Oyster Cult and more recent favorites like Hammers of Misfortune and Slough Feg, Dawnbringer balances an earthy classicism with a gaze toward bold frontiers.
Though the progression of tracks on Into the Lair of the Sun God takes the listener from “I” to “IX,” indicating a continuum on which the sequence is based, each track can be easily separated from the whole, digestible in small chunks or taken as a lengthy, yet exciting collection. First track “I” is the longest, most sprawling track on the album, yet chugs along with an infectious momentum, reaching choral peaks with harmonized refrains of “Where is the glory?” and “Silence you bastard!” The band makes a quick cut to some speed-metal thrash on “II,” and shows off some glorious guitar harmonization on the crunchy highlight “III.” And yet as strong as the album starts off, one of the album’s most soaring highlights is closer “IX,” a mournful doom metal rumbler as triumphant as it is downcast.
In spite of some moments of unbridled heaviness, Into the Lair of the Sun God almost sounds, at times, more like a classic rock album than a metal album, but hindsight is a little more instructive. It reminds us that once upon a time, the two weren’t as far apart as they are now. And whether epic and highbrow, or crushing and succinct, metal, as it is with Dawnbringer, often sounds its best when allowed entry through more melodic avenues.
Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street
Iron Maiden – Powerslave
Slough Feg – Ape Uprising
Stream: Dawnbringer – “III”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.