There’s a lot of anger in the world today: things often look very bleak, especially if you’re tuned in to a cycle of news that knows how to prey on your deepest insecurities. From the alt-right to the activist left – and everywhere in between – there seethes a fury in all of us. It’s OK to be angry, it’s a normal, human reaction – it’s how you process it that defines you.
Referencing this anger, and reacting to it in a way that is cathartic and freeing, are DAWN RAY’D. Born from the ashes of post-hardcore band We Came Out Like Tigers, this three-piece pour their spite into a triumph of harmony and malevolence on their debut album The Unlawful Assembly. Split into two parts, the LP is an updated blast of black metal from what was found on their 2015 EP, A Thorn, A Blight. The anger found on this LP is not wanton, it’s channelled, showing that fury that is controlled and directed well can be very powerful. Indeed, after selling out of the LP’s first pressing when it was released in October 2017, Dawn Ray’d’s label – the progressive black metal imprint Prosthetic Records, home to Scale The Summit and Skeletonwitch – commissioned a re-pressing of the LP on silver and bronze vinyl, to be released in April.
Dawn Ray’d take their name from a passage in a poem by American anarchist writer Voltairine de Cleyre, which is a nod to their own left-wing, antifascist views, and the poetic lyrics of Simon B, who acts as a kind of lightning rod of the group’s fearsome energy. Their stance marks them out as a group who see activism and having a musical platform as equally important, particularly against some of the more unsavoury, pro-right-wing views of NSBM (national socialist black metal) artists.
Ahead of the re-release of The Unlawful Assembly, we caught up with the band’s vocalist and violinist Simon B. to find out what Dawn Ray’d’s take on a contemporary class war would look and sound like.
The Unlawful Assembly is split into two parts, The Wild Service and The Wild Magic. What does each ‘half’ represent, in terms of competing emotions that make up the whole album?
Every release we have done in this band, and in our previous bands, has focused around the vinyl release, so it was definitely written in two halves. For me, The Wild Service, the first half of the record, is very direct and straightforward, the lyrics are expressly political, the songs are fast, angry, no-nonsense. It is very much the ‘business end’ of the album. I liked the idea that anarchism is a service to humanity and to the world, it is a very selfless ideology. The Wild Magic is more expansive and lyrically philosophical, more whimsical; it is less literal for sure. Although we are very political, we are also a black metal band, so there has to be a balance between the message and the magic black metal is supposed to create.
I also liked the idea of replacing the ‘side A/B’ format. It is another chance to put extra imagination into the record – I like the idea of using every possible chance you have to express yourself, not wasting an opportunity to contribute to the magic or lore of what this band is.
Would it be fair to say there’s plenty of rage on this album? There are some fairly obvious targets for vitriol too (the church, Nazi apologists), but is there a more existential rage embedded in the whole thing?
Hmm… It is a very angry album for sure, I would say that is the primary emotion on this record without doubt, but an anger that comes in different forms; it is triumphant at times, sometimes righteous, sometimes very bitter and malicious. There are definitely targets that have been singled out – fascists, the abusers within the church, the borders, prisons – but you are right, there is a deeper anger for sure.
The Ceaseless Arbitrary Choice explores the faults of voting and relying on a ballot box for change, and maybe what we could do instead. We have songs that look at the constant drudgery and malaise of living under capitalism, and of how resistance is important for your mental survival. These issues, although they must be confronted, are not going away anytime soon, so we have to learn to both resist, but also live under the conditions we find ourselves in. Does that count as existential?
Do you ever find it difficult to maintain this intensity when playing the songs live? Or is it always a cathartic feeling?
Our live set is only 23 minutes, depending on how rambling my pontifications get… We intentionally keep the set short and intense, there’s nothing worse than watching a band and wishing they had stopped 20 minutes ago! It’s a cliché that so many bands don’t pick up on, but, for the love of god, leave them wanting more, don’t leave people exhausted! It also means we can go as hard as possible during those songs, put every ounce of energy into every song and try and create a very intense atmosphere while we play.
I still really enjoy playing live, even if we have driven for 10 hours with very little sleep; whether we play first or at a squat party at 2am, I am always excited to play. Even on the worst days on tour it is a chance to vent your every frustration and bit of anger, it is an incredibly cathartic experience for sure. Screaming as hard as you can, punching the air and seeing people scream the words back at you is a feeling like no other, I recommend it.
You’ve been very open and honest about the problems with black metal and its tolerance of right-wing views and misogyny. Have you experienced any conflict from the NSBM side of the genre in response to this?
Nothing beyond a few bileful comments online. Actually, a dude came up to me at our last Liverpool show and told me he supported “white power” – he discovered very quickly what we meant by ‘oppose fascists’ and he was shown the door!
Those far-right scenes on the whole are very isolated and insular, and are finding it increasingly hard to operate. Taake had their US tour cancelled because so many of the venues refused to host a singer that had painted a swastika on his chest. Graveland had their shows attacked and cancelled by antifascists when they tried to tour the US and Canada, and bands that are clearly Nazis are tying themselves in knots trying to convince people they aren’t, in fact, racist.
With the recent increase in fascism in global politics, people are seeing those ideas for what they are: abhorrent and worth fighting back against. We get an overwhelming amount of support for the things we say on stage, about opposing racism and bigotry, because most people are decent and compassionate! NSBM is a vocal but diminishing minority.
Some of the tracks on this album have been described as battle hymns, and there are a lot of exhortations to action against the targets of some of the stronger critiques. Do you ever worry that this goes against your outspoken views on those black metal artists who espouse more sinister action?
I don’t oppose NSBM because it is merely sinister, or has great conviction. I don’t hate Burzum or Varg Vikernes because he burnt down churches. I oppose those people because they are ideological fascists. They would see the most important people in my life destroyed, they would see the world enslaved under a tyrannical dictatorship, they would oversee genocides, they would pursue everyone they deemed different until there was no one left to scapegoat, they would terrorise women, and make life a nightmare, as we have seen too many times in history already.
People too often believe fascism is a synonym for violence, when it is not. It is not the use of violence that makes something ‘fascist’. When thousands of people went to St. George’s Hall here in Liverpool and physically confronted the far-right groups that tried to march through there, the force the Nazis were met with was the community defending itself, it was ordinary people doing what was necessary to stop the spread of the most evil ideas that have ever existed.
I think a good question is, ‘At what point will you physically stop them?’ When they march in the streets? When they succeed electorally? When they have started to industrially kill people? Physical confrontation of fascism is not comparable to fascism, that’s a misunderstanding of what that word means.
I would gladly see every church in the world pulled down if that meant the widespread cover-up and abuse of thousands of children at the hands of the clergy stopped that same day. Wouldn’t you?
What would an anarchist revolution look like in 2018?
Rojava. Or the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, I would imagine.
Some of the softer interludes on the album – and the closer A Thought, Ablaze – bring to mind a different age of English pagan heritage and the discordant folk music associated with it. What does this atmosphere speak of to you? A simpler time when we were closer to nature? An ideal state to aspire to? Or a different manifestation of your rage at the state of the world?
For me it was a way to express the ideas on the album in a different way. I felt that maybe if we only scream and shout about those ideas they could start to lose their meaning, but to be able to discuss them in a more emotional and calm way gives them fresh impact, I think. Also, the lyrics in A Litany To Cowards explore the idea that these are timeless struggles: ‘The language might be different, the sentiment’s the same’, so it seemed fitting to frame that within a folk song, which is a very timeless form of music.
Why is music important to you?
Big question! I think for me, it is all about the imagination – your experience of the world all depends on how you choose to frame it. It also makes me feel a part of something, part of a music scene that is infinitely more exciting than what is happening to me at that very moment, more exciting than work, or bills, or life’s stresses.
Life under capitalism is hard and can be monotonous, so to have those few precious hours holed up in a practice room playing extremely loud music, or touring in a van in a country you’ve never been to, or meeting people you never would have met if you hadn’t travelled to a far flung city to play a show, makes life worth living!
The second pressing of The Unlawful Assembly is released on 27th April via Prosthetic Records.