Another day, another album where the album cover simply screams what the album is like. Arriving amidst the deluge of fantastic black metal that’s already releasing in 2020, Skyforest add a brighter tone to things, as A New Dawn‘s cover will quickly tell you. The music is the same, “meeting” the artwork at the metaphor; through both channels, the feeling of a dawn breaking majestically across the horizon permeates everything. In the music, this comes forward mostly through the dominant strings that provide the backdrop and the canvas for the rest of the instruments. Instead of just leaving them “hanging”, however, Skyforest also adjust the rest of the tones to fit. The guitars, the vocals, the drums, everything works to assist the strings in creating this sensation of a burst of light, a color filled take on pagan black metal that is intensely satisfying to listen to.
And when I say intensely I mean it; A New Dawn barely takes any time to rest. Listen to the opening track for example, “Along the Waves”, and the absolutely moving strings that appear besides the guitars near the middle of the track. Building on the already operatic compositions up until that point, they’re suddenly charged with this irresistible energy, an energy which then builds into the moving guitar bridge that ushers the track towards its end. Everything is mastered and recorded large, both tones and ideas searing across the soundscape. In a move that reminds us of Borknagar more than any other band, these energies are then channeled into magnificent choir vocals over blast-beats. These tools are not exactly strangers to the genre of black metal but are wielded here by Skyforest with a decidedly more “open” and grandiose style. And it works; this kind of color palette, not unlike the aforementioned Borknagar, makes for some incredibly moving and effective black metal, chiming off of the already epic sensibilities of the genre to great effect.
Of course, as is often the case with this style and this genre more generally, this is also the album’s pitfall. Because it’s constantly turned up, the expansive gesture of A New Dawn can get somewhat tiring. Near the middle of the album, tracks can start to blur together, massive tremolo sections fading into one another and creating a sort of distance or disinterest in the listener. But here’s the thing: it’s absolutely obvious that, whether by instinct or design, Skyforest picked up on this issue and did much to alleviate it. For starters, the tracks are strewn with little tidbits like the nature samples in the beginning of “The Night is No More” or folk infused passages. These do much to serve as “waypoints” along the album, pricking your ears into attention as the more climactic approach of the albums starts to wash together. These are also, of course, not unique or novel tools but they’re utilized to their full potential on A New Dawn and do much towards “filling in” the picture where other bands would have sufficed themselves with repetitiveness.
But the true secret weapon in Skyforest’s arsenal is “Wanderer”, the track second to last on the album. It’s not a mistake that it’s so placed; it serves as a perfect linchpin for the backend of the album. It achieves this status with its absolutely wonderful string sections, its powerful vocals, and great composition, easily taking the crown among some fierce competition with other standout tracks on the album. The vocals are especially worthy of attention; both the clean vocals and the harsher screams, going off in the background of the track, do a fantastic job of “selling” this track. Their timbres and inflections are close to perfect and serve to bring back the energy which makes A New Dawn so good. Couple that with the consistently excellent drums (seriously, the drums on this album are amazing), and those satisfying strings, and you have yourself one of the finest black metal excursions of the past few months (and that’s saying something, just wait for my next review, tomorrow).
Bottom line, A New Dawn is certainly not a perfect album and it’s not for everyone; it wholly embraces some of the cliches and familiar gestures of the genre its part of. But by turning down the grayscale and embracing a broader and brighter color scheme, it manages to be a thrilling and immensely rewarding piece of music for those who are receptive to its charms. If you like black metal and you like it massive and unapologetic, this is the album for you and one of the standouts in a genre that’s already looking to lay claim to the year ahead of us.
Skyforest’s A New Dawn releases on February 20th. Make sure to head on over to the band’s Bandcamp to grab it.