Dawn Ray'd at The Lexington, London

Support: Pest Control
March 24, 2023 at The Lexington, London
Promoter: Baba Yaga's Hut

London is suitably wet and the city is aptly howling with strong winds as anarchist black-metal trio Dawn Ray’d celebrate the release of their newest LP, To Know the Light. It’s a much-anticipated release in the underground metal world in 2023, the band’s third full-length and second on Prosthetic Records. Their gig at The Lexington, London, is the official release night and “launch” of their new opus – a swirling, fiery mix of rebellion and resistance skewing through a potent mix of folk and black metal.

Aside from a 7-inch double-sided single in 2021, it’s the first material from the Liverpool-based band in over three years. Despite a steady amount of releasing before the previous full-length, Behold Sedition Plainsong, and a notable gathering of momentum around that time, it’s been during the dearth of new material that the band have ironically gained notoriety. More people have surely discovered them over the intervening years, and it may be that coupled with inspiring interviews focused more on politics and community than music in many cases that has marked them out as something rather unique within black metal.

The line-up is similarly no-nonsense, with just two bands on the bill, allowing both bands a little extra on stage. Leeds punk-thrash crossover throwback band Pest Control take to the stage. They, too, are touring relentlessly, given the quintet have recently released their debut album. A lot of the band’s set pulls from Don’t Test the Pest and they’re heavy enough to happily bludgeon an audience ready for fun on a Friday night, and also serve as a stylistic and tonal counterpoint to the serious business of Dawn Ray’d’s black metal rite of fire.

The band are very tight, hammering out taut flurries of their thrashing heavy metal, suffused with hardcore stomp and a simple but joyful punk-ish groove. The two Joes handling guitars definitely aren’t short of a riff or ten, with their songs stacked with enough chug to make even the most dispassionate black metal stan start bobbing their head within minutes. Leah is a great singer – her harsh vocals holding up against the barrage of noise the four other members are producing around them. There are definitely some people in the audience that are equally here for them (and maybe even solely), as there’s some serious shapes being flung right in front of the stage.

Were I to find fault at all, I would constructively say that there was little in the way of direct connection tonight between the band and audience – a facet of a band with elements of punk and hardcore in their DNA that I might expect. There’s certainly extremely warm feelings toward the band kicking everyone’s ass with their half-hour set, but more impression may have been left with some more interaction. Many might wholly disagree with me here – I often love a band who don’t really interact at all – but on this evening it struck me that there was an opportunity to convert even more people to their thrash-punk cause.

Dawn Ray’d take to the stage – Simon (vocals & violin), Fabian (guitar), and Matthew (drums) – to huge applause. This album launch is ready to turn into a party and a celebration of a huge new achievement, with To Know the Light already picking up a tsunami of critical acclaim. Their set tonight solely focused on that new, vital material. It’s extraordinary how many in the audience are already screaming lines of lyrics back to the trio.

Dawn Ray’d are one of those bands in extreme metal where you sometimes have to shake your head and wonder quite how a trio make the noise that they do without another three more musicians hidden around the back. This is especially true when taking into account their atypical set-up, of drums, one solo guitar, no bass, and a vocalist who swaps between mic-in-hand whirling around and lunging at the audience and an invisible foe in the air, before having to transfer the mic to a stand so that they can play some gorgeous, mournful violin (pitch perfectly), ahead of using that instrument – often thought of as supremely delicate – to create a great wall of emotive, furious, fretful noise.

Simon is mesmeric and gives voice to the power we have to fight institutional, cultural, and structural injustices. The “invisible foe” he clutches and tears at on stage isn’t so invisible after all, it turns out. The band’s other members are unusually similarly magnetic on stage; Fabian glowering at the feverish crowd as he produces devastating riff after wounding riff, surely ruinous for all the necks in the audience tonight. Matthew sends out volley after volley of thunderous drumming; often sounding more Gatling gun than instrument.

There are poignant lulls too, where the folk-telling and musical aspect of Dawn Ray’d repertoire are allowed to breathe, take shape, and move. Not only are these moments of precious rest and reverie for a busy venue going wild, but they are genuinely gorgeous, affecting passages of music unto themselves. The wretched nature of both the folk and extreme metal means the band don’t contrast light and shade; there’s just shadow and pitch-black darkness. However, the trio provide a burning desire and belief to light our way out of these endless contours of deepening silhouette… The message across To Know the Light is that people, community, grass-roots organisation, and direct local action is the way forward.

On the basis of tonight, the trio have more additions to their ranks.

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