Dawn Ray’d have always done things their own way. And the UK black metallers look set to raise eyebrows once again, as Rich Holmes discovered…
“We are like the punk band at metal shows and a metal band at punk shows. We have always occupied a weird space.”
Simon Barr, vocalist and violinist with UK black metallers Dawn Ray’d, knows his band don’t fit in.
Not into any ‘traditional’ metal or rock scene, anyway.
Committed anarchists and anti-fascists, Dawn Ray’d made their name with incendiary, folk-tinged albums such as 2017’s The Unlawful Assembly.
You won’t find songs about the occult, Satan or Norse gods in their repertoire.
Instead they take aim at the far right, corporate greed and the prison system.
A Time For Courage At The Borderlands puts the plight of refugees into sharp focus. To All, to All, to All! recounts the Kronstadt rebellion of 1921.
Their spiritual roots are arguably closer to the anarcho punk of Crass and Chumbawamba – one of Barr’s favourite bands – than Mayhem or Emperor.
And the Liverpool act’s message is being heard across the world.
Dawn Ray’d – who are signed to US label Prosthetic Records – have gained the kind of international clout many British extreme metal bands could only dream about.
Tours across North America and Europe, appearances at the likes of Roadburn and Northwest Terror Fest, and an acclaimed sophomore album in Behold Sedition Plainsong, have opened doors and opened minds.
“At the punk shows we’re a metal band and too heavy for some people, and at black metal shows it’s too political for some people and they are a bit bemused by it, but there are always people who enjoy it,” Barr explains. “I feel like we don’t really fit in anywhere – but I quite like that.
“It’s nice being the odd band out on the bill. It’s more interesting.
“We’ve played some really varied bills. We played an anti-fascist festival in Manchester and we were the only heavy band: it was rappers and DJs.”
Like the anarcho-punk acts that grace their t-shirts, Dawn Ray’d have a direct line into the worldwide squat scene.
The trio book their own tours.
They embrace punk’s DIY ethos.
And they’re close to a community which is not normally associated with black metal.
Dawn Ray’d have pitched up at dozens of squats and social centres across the US and Europe.
And undoubtedly, the band have blazed a trail. They were the first black metal act to play at legendary Oslo squat Blitz House, for example.
“I feel like we have become part of an international anarchist community,” says Barr. “We tap into a global scene. We send a lot of merch to East Asia because there’s a massive anarchist scene there.
“I guess that’s why we do quite well: we have more of a global theme and a global outlook.
“We talk about things that everybody can understand.”
Their overtly political stance, however, has attracted a different kind of attention.
“There weren’t anti-fascist (black metal) bands before us,” says the vocalist. “There were anarchist bands like Panopticon, but no one was talking about anti-fascism. We got a huge amount of shit about that at the start, an unbelievable amount of shit… and so many death threats.”
Barr admits that this ‘shit’ is still flung at Dawn Ray’d online.
But as far as the UK is concerned, he’s positive about the evolution of the metal scene into a more tolerant, diverse space.
“My experience in the real world is that actually, people are good and decent, and this is a really exciting, enthusiastic and welcoming music scene,” he suggests. “(Our band) are all white, we’re all straight, so I guess we don’t get it as bad as some people might.
“And I don’t want to erase the experiences other people might have had.
“But I do think the scene could be a lot worse.
“Underdark have a trans woman singer (Abi Vasquez) and I’m sure Abi gets a lot of shit. I’m sure it’s not easy for her at times.
“But Underdark are able to do well and are able to exist, whereas in other countries that might not be as easy.”
The next chapter for Dawn Ray’d
The Covid-19 lockdown period gave Barr, guitarist Fabian Devlin and drummer Matthew Broadley time to reflect.
To sharpen up.
And, as the singer puts it, to “reinvent” Dawn Ray’d.
The results will be heard on a new album.
Written over 18 months, it has been recorded with producer Mark Mynett, who has worked with the likes of My Dying Bride and Rotting Christ.
The band’s third full-length – which is currently being mixed – will be more accessible and melodic. There’ll be “mad synths”, clean vocals, an acapella song with close harmonies… even a cathedral pipe organ.
“Glossy” is the term Barr uses.
Prepare for something very different from Dawn Ray’d.
“The main criticism levelled at us was that we were never a ‘true’ black metal band, because we were anti-fascist and anarchist, which never seem to really stick,” Barr explains. “But we also felt this pressure to be a ‘true’ black metal band. So I think the last couple of records are a little bit raw.
“Maybe we were trying to appeal to other people’s ideas of what black metal should and shouldn’t be.
“With this one, we’ve kind of gone against that and created the record that we really want to play on our own terms.
“It was defined by what Dawn Ray’d is, not what people think Dawn Ray’d should be.
“I’m really excited about this record. It just feels like a thorough revamp of this band… almost starting from scratch a little bit.”
He continues: “We’ve always been quite quick at recording before and have been quite punk and lo-fi about it all, ripping out 10 songs in 10 days.
“This record is very, very different. We’re putting a huge amount more effort, time and money into it.”
So have Dawn Ray’d – who emerged from screamo act We Came Out Like Tigers – ditched black metal?
It doesn’t sound like it.
“It’s definitely a black metal record,” Barr replies. “I think it will be recognisably us three playing on this record, but it will also be a side to this band that no one has really heard before.
“Maybe because of the way we’re positioned, we are able to bring in quite a diverse range of influences.
“I think we may be able to take black metal in our own little way and try to expand what a black metal record can be.”
The release date hasn’t been finalised. Dawn Ray’d aren’t pressuring themselves to hit a deadline.
They want it to be “perfect”.
And the band’s ambition is palpable.
Barr signs off: “Initially just being an anarchist and anti-fascist black metal band felt like a huge thing to try to achieve.
“We have built that now.
“We have all this momentum and we’ve proved we are able to be whatever we want to be.”