Album Reviews

Dawn – Darker

“It’s a bit ‘prog by numbers’ and I don’t like the singers voice.” This was an opinion voiced by a well versed music friend of mine on Dawn’s new album, ‘Darker’. Now I respect this person very much and have often had some great recommendations from him however, this time, my opinion differs from his greatly.

Now there is nothing wrong with that and the fact we have different opinions makes the world the way that it is. It helps different forms of music or art flourish because, if everybody liked the same thing, it would stagnate and never change. We see differing opinions in all walks of life and, in some cases, in can be detrimental and lead to violence and war. Look at what is happening all over the world due to political and religious differences and the fervour that can elicit.

We would not have some of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world if it wasn’t for people having different opinions on the merits of sporting teams, be it soccer, football, rugby or any other team-based or individual sport.

So you see, opinions can be good and lead to the further development of things on one hand but, they can lead to war and dissention on the other. I always feel that music has developed due to the fact that it can affect people in different ways and we wouldn’t have some of the amazing musicians we have now if this wasn’t the case. I have listened to Dawn’s new release umpteen times now and it really grows on you, read on for my own opinion on this album.

Swiss progressive rock artists Dawn were formed in Montreux, Switzerland in 1996. They released their first album ‘Loneliness’ in 2007. The band consists of Rene Degoumois (guitar and vocals), Nicolas Gerber (keyboards), Julien Vuatez (bass) and Manu Linder (drums).

Dawn’s music is riddled with vintage keyboard sounds and flowing guitar solos. Plaintive vocals ascribe a kinship to the British Canterbury prog family tree. The album is conceived as a series of compositions dealing with Man in the 21st century: his fears, his conception of life, his reaction to technology, nuclear power, and the planet’s suffocation. Darker was recorded in 2013 by Olivier Charmillot and mastered by noted audiophile engineer Bob Katz.

The album starts in low key manner and one that mystifies me a little. First track Yesterday’s Sorrow is listed as being two minutes and twenty five seconds long and yet, the first minute is complete silence, I just don’t get that? When the music does start it is a solid, if slightly uninspiring instrumental consisting of a swirling keyboard and monotonous drums. Perhaps used to set the scene for the rest of the album? Who knows but, to me it is a slightly ignominious beginning to the album. Don’t let this put you off. You must delve deeper as it segues into Cold which has a much more powerful introduction of keyboards and drums. The vocals begin, very plaintive and Rene’s voice can divide opinion. I for one really like it as it paints a picture or a mood in my head. The guitar contrasts with the mellow vocal being more raucous and hard edged and providing the base from which everything else can flourish. The addition of the flute like synth to accompany the vocal adds an additional layer of complexity to the sound. It is like old school symphonic prog but with a darker shade of meaning and the laid back middle section where the keyboards, mellotron, drums and bass all merge to give a great progressive soundscape is brilliant. There are sections running through the song where it takes on a denser, harder feel before being reclaimed by that lush progressive feel.

The next track Darker starts with a more sombre edge, in keeping with the title. The bass is key here, really high in the mix and blending well with the guitar and Hammond organ to give an almost theatrical feel to proceedings. The vocals join the mix, clipped and precise. The song is sombre, pensive and melancholy but catches your attention and holds you in place. It has more of a vintage progressive sound to it, complex and exacting. The mellow sections have their roots in that late 60’s progressive scene and pull you in with their promise of aural pleasure. It is a track that lulls you into a sense of mournfulness and sways you into stasis. Rene’s wistful voice awakes you from your slumber and, along with an earnest guitar, actually fills you with a feeling of hope. This is music that grips and stirs your soul, pulling your emotions every which way it can leaving you an empty husk at the end.

After the work-out given to your mind and soul by the previous track, Lullabies for Gutterflies is a breath of fresh air, all light and airy. It is an instrumental that takes most of the traditional and vintage styles of progressive music and melds them into something similar but distinct. The pulsating keyboard note rings in your ears long after as it builds into something akin to a Jean Michelle Jarre track that has journeyed through all the expressive worlds of prog. It is urgent and reflective at the same time, a clever and intricate mix that satiates the musical palate.

A homage to the nuclear attack on Nagasaki (it happened on the 9th August, 1945) 8945 is one of those tracks that will incite Marmite moments for a lot of people. To me, it is a song that works better if you are in the right mood for it. I can listen to this nineteen minute epic and remain unmoved and relatively unimpressed by its convoluted and meticulously prepared sections yet, on other occasions it can reach deep into my core and hold me transfixed, a complete enigma of a song. With the dark subject matter it was never going to be a song full of light and hope but, when the mood takes you, it is seriously intelligent and deep tale that speaks of darkness and sorrow. There are layers of musical talent here, the vocals are succinct and skilled and the instruments are played with a level of dexterity that is very impressive indeed.

Out of Control is a proper rollicking 70’s progressive track full of life and vigour, the keyboard sound is rooted in 8 bit technology and incredibly playful and the vocal is upbeat and joyous. It is a perfect contrast to 8945 and takes your mind and soul on an effervescent joy ride. The coruscating guitar section in the middle, all haphazard and random is inventive and works well. The whole track just puts a smile on my face. Lost Anger is a succinct two minutes of progressive exploration, a short instrumental that works well as a bridge into the final track.

We end this admirable progressive album with another delve into the world of vintage and traditional with Endless. It starts in a simple way with a slow burning keyboard and steady drums and bass before Rene’s voice is brought into the mix. It has a real sense of a Jon Anderson inspired Yes about it. Impressively gifted musicians give us a real feel of the heyday of 70’s symphonic prog but with Dawn’s own stamp on it. There are some tight, technical instrumental sections that flow sinuously through the music and some quiet moments where the music leads as a fanfare. The ending is just a delight, the keyboards really take on a life of their own and, as the ending to a consummate release, it is nigh on perfect.

An album that divides opinions is often a fine example of the genre and, in this case, it is definitely so. Like all my favourite records, it takes time to grow and allow you to access all of its delights but, once you have heard it a few times, it becomes a thing of grandeur. Dawn has given me another entrant into my vault of great progressive albums that will stay with me for a very long time. In that, they should be mightily applauded.

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