It is probably unsurprising that modern progressive metal regularly reaches into the realm of science fiction for inspiration. Sleek, shiny futurism fits the atmospheric mood, the aesthetic and often the ideology firing the creative juices of these bands. As we know, the success of a science fiction concept often rests on how seamlessly the familiar and the unfamiliar are blended together by whoever is holding the pen.
Lithium Dawn have been exploring their corner of space together for some time, releasing their debut album, AION, all the way back in 2012. The two halves of a double album concept, Tearing Back The Veil, followed in 2015 and 2017. And now, in perhaps an unintended nod to the Star Wars attitude to timelines, for their 2018 mini-album, Gravity Waves, they have returned to conclude the story they began to tell with AION.
As I say, the core of Lithium Dawn’s sound is progressive metal, sitting at the melodic, song-based end of that spectrum along with the likes of TesseracT and Devin Townsend. Guest appearances across their discography from Aaron Marshall of Intervals and Plini are also strongly illustrative of the bands general direction of travel. A dash of Opeth, a hint of Deftones and even, in their chunkier moments, a taste of the muscular riffs of Monuments are also evident in their sonic stew. However, Lithium Dawn have also added a few more exotic ingredients for added flavour.
Predominantly, these less common elements are drawn from ambient electronics and, perhaps most surprisingly, dub reggae. There’s not a tremendous amount of overlap between metal and dub in general, and reggae is as broad a church as metal in terms of the sub-genres which live under the catch-all umbrella label. So we should be clear that Lithium Dawn are drawing their influence from the relaxed and languid, atmospheric dub soundsystems, rather than livelier variants like ska or dancehall. They bridge some of the broader gaps with more Pink Floydian progressive expansiveness, to arrive at a sound which is distinctive without feeling overly contrived.
Gravity Waves itself is very much narrative driven. I won’t talk too much here about the precise details of this story arc, for the sake of spoilers. Let’s just say it is set in a more brutal, dystopian near-future where intergalactic travel has been mastered, and involves a lone traveller. After a scene-setting introductory track, “Escape Velocity” is the first track proper, and sees Lithium Dawn at their more muscular. Indeed, there is a general shift on this release into slightly heavier territory than the Tearing Back The Veil material. However, we still get an extended atmospheric workout in “Valles Marineris”. With the band having made music together for as long as they have, the songs are naturally mature and cohesive.
Gravity Waves serves as an excellent introduction to the band, especially for those who might find the prospect of a twin-album concept a little bit daunting from an unknown quantity. This more succinct and – despite the thematic link to AION – self-contained release is easier to swallow, and those who like what they hear will then have three full albums to dive in and explore more deeply.
Although four releases in six years is relatively prolific, especially for a band writing around concepts, Lithium Dawn live performances are conspicuously few and far between. Perhaps this is at least partially explained by the fact the band list their locations as ‘Los Angeles and Washington DC’, which is sure to present some obvious logistical challenges. It would probably be fair to say that the band would probably now benefit from playing live more regularly, especially in the strength of the vocal performances, which slightly lag behind the actual music in terms of their confidence.
But, all in, Lithium Dawn have managed to find a convincing and credible unique spin to set themselves apart from a particularly crowded pack. The additional influences have been so successfully incorporated into the music that it does make you start to wonder why it hasn’t been done before, and maybe we will see them inspire others to explore this path. Certainly, fans of TesseracT, Caligula’s Horse or even Chimp Spanner are likely to find much to enjoy here.