Here’s an age-old truth: fragile beauty is something that is aesthetically magnetic. The idea of the weakness, the fleeting nature of what is beautiful, runs through the stories we’ve been telling ourselves for generations now. Think of cities shrouded in mist, vanishing before our eyes, of elfin marvels that shatter at a touch, of shattered swords, and golden ages that crumble the more closely we look at them. These kinds of tropes and, to be even more accurate yet abstract at the same time, aesthetic flavors, are what has always been conjured by Dawnwalker‘s self-described “green metal”. Flowing from a core made up in equal degrees from touching folk sensibilities and a black metal fire burning deep within, Dawnwalker’s music has always invoked the sense of the fragile, of the sun falling beneath the horizon, of a place that is absent, even as we remember ourselves standing in it.
But on Ages, these flavors have been amplified even further. The basic formula of Dawnkwalker’s music is pretty much the same on the release but everything feels more essential and, of course, more transitory and failing at the same time. This “draws the heart out”, tempting it out of our chests with the promise of fading beauty. It starts with the cover art: the surf mirrors the beards and clothes of the ancient (and possibly wise) beings that crowd the shore. Their presence is as fleeting as the surf; the scene is divorced of time and place, existing in a vanishing, abstract place that lasts for the duration of the album itself.
These sensations are perhaps most further amplified by the excellent and dual clean vocals on the album. “The Wheel”, the first station in the album’s journey, is a great example of how this is accomplished. It opens with a quieter part focusing on the vocals, setting the canvas and the colors to be used to paint it with. The vocals timbres together, both the gruffer voice of band leader Mark Norgate and the more crystalline and piercing sound of Robin Melinda Koob’s vocals, are laded with the affect of something disappearing, of a lament for what’s about to break. This is what the quieter passages on the track, and, indeed, the album, are for, to set up what’s at stake, to channel melancholy and a sense of heartbreak for all that is about to be lost.
Then, naturally, comes the part of the heavier, black metal infused passages. After all, when is the fragile object more beautiful than in the moment when it breaks? The shattering makes its beauty irretrievable and all the more beautiful for it, like a vase freeze-framed as it hits the floor and splinters into a thousand parts. So too with Ages; the quieter passages find their natural and effective resolution in the blast-beats, harsh vocals, and daunting guitars that grace this album whenever the cleaner parts choose to die. The cleverness of music is that the vase does not have to shatter or rather that it can always be retrieved and made to shatter over and over again.
This is exactly what Dawnkwalker do on the album; returning to the evocative, morose clean singing and acoustic passages, they smash them again and again against the other, heavier side of their sound. “Ancient Sands” is a great example; listen around the two minute mark for the interplay between the clean vocals and the harsher sounds. While they inhibit the same spaces for a while, pining off of each other’s edges, the clean vocals finally find their momentum dragging them towards the cataclysmic chords, more doom metal than black, that make up the middle of the track. This is one of the heaviest and slowest passages on the album, a crucible through which the cleaner themes of the opening track are fed.
As a result, when these themes return, when the same chords and vocal lines are repeated at the other side of the massive riff, they are recharged with an irresistible energy: we have heard them break and we know they shall break again but for now, they are with us, momentary and beautiful. This kind of destruction and rebirth is a musical as well as a lyrical theme that runs through Ages, expertly channeled by Dawnwalker to amplify its beauty and affect. The end result is an album that is constantly tantalizing you with the allure of fragility, of fading beauty, while crushing you with the hammer in its other hand. It is a sweet lie and a bitter truth, effectively channeled through the medium of atmospheric, expressive black metal.
Ages was released on December 4th and you’d best head on over to the band’s Bandcamp above to get it. You’d be making a grave mistake otherwise.