Dawnbringer - _In Sickness and in Dreams_
(Battle Kommand Records, 2006)
by: T. DePalma (9 out of 10)
"I'll take my chances in the dark" ("Hell Is a Desert")

If while browsing various websites and catalogs, you see this brain-child of writer/musician Chris Black (Superchrist, Pharaoh, Nachtmystium) being classed under "death metal", you would be less remiss for disregarding that association than you would by trying to fit the band into such narrow parameters. Even a catch-word like "progressive", with its implied fusion and clinging avantgarde approach, fails horribly in hinting at Dawnbringer's manic compression of styles.

Black, who handles a different instrument in just about every other band he plays in, has with the talents of Scott Hoffman (guitar) and Pharaoh's Matt Johnson (lead guitar) brought together all his influences -- traditional / NWOBHM, speed, power, death metal and punk -- into one hyper-entity, creating a surreal concept album built from shadows, mirrors, killer insects and mosaic fragments of personal crisis.

"Like a footprint, like feedback / Fades faster than you know" ("Under No Flag")

_In Sickness and in Dreams_ is the third Dawnbringer album to date, and their first in five years. The return and subsequent theme is helped by its brevity. At 24 minutes, the album is half the length of 2000's _Catharsis Instinct_. Broken into a triptych, the first six tracks run together seamlessly until a kind of interlude occurs in the acoustic stop-restart pairing of "11:58" and "Midnight" (the former playing off on the Iron Maiden anthem, but ironically riffs off Mercyful Fate's songwriting) with another six tracks following this.

Incredibly catchy but only faintly nostalgic, _Sickness_'s energy is generated by the impeccable lead and rhythm work on the guitars, whose melodies flow rapidly and repetitvely over Black's craggy vocal style, sometimes drifting 180 into a King Diamond-like falsetto. As was evident on the last Superchrist album, Black has a unique, intelligible, but not very strong voice, which is better compensated here by the hazy atmosphere and production on disc. Even Johnson's furious chops do not appear so ostentatious inside _Dreams_' filmy veil.

There is softness to the album that enables a fresh perspective on even the more common-place phrasing. Finding a center to the music itself, however, remains difficult. While many tracks have a distinct power metal vibe -- though shedding its typically melodramatic touches -- a track like "There and Back" rides on imperfect consonance and sorrowful melodies, but soon morphs into the bouncing punk rhythm of "Under No Flag", with vocal harmonies that wouldn't be out of place on a Bad Religion record.

"I use my mirror for a window... Nothing gained from looking out or in" ("Anomie")

Despite its hurried pace, _In Sickness and in Dreams_ still encompasses a substantial amount of material, with cohesion between every aspect of its presentation. Black's lyrics dovetail nicely with the cover's simple but haunting portrait, where he's seen essentially looming over himself. It seems fair to assume then that Black's writing, however stylized, posits himself as main protagonist throughout this layered but still frighteningly vague concept album. Recurrent in _Dreams_' track list is the persistent doubling of the author's name. Foreboding phrases like "Black hole" and "family in black" are spread throughout the album, leading up to "Endless Guilt" and its bleak chorus of "end-black-game".

Words and sound are supplemented in the booklet by weird photographs of sepia toned grids and a hallway full of open doors reflecting each other throughout opposite pages, a mirror of the cynical horror that unfolds. By the time we come to the "eight-leg knife fight" on "Attack of the Spiders" the continuity might not be so immediately clear, but is a breaking point for a character firmly and consistently portrayed on the verge of destruction. And still, the album is executed without clich├ęs -- both musically and poetically -- with tracks like "Attack of the Spiders", "Anomie" and "Endless Guilt" representing some of the most beautifully -under-written- portraits of mental anxiety and imbalance inside the genre (and an essential silliness in the first that reads fluidly and without compromise).

In the end, we're shown multiples of an unraveling personality but left with no certain conclusions or closure. Even the album's final words appear as non-sequitur and end shortly in mid-song. But there's no denying it's finished what it's set out to do and prevails through the sum of its verve imagination and freedom.

Contact: http://www.battlekommand.com

(article published 16/3/2007)


ALBUMS
9/1/1998 R Kriste 8 Dawnbringer - Unbleed
1/2/1997 B Meloon 7 Dawnbringer - Sacrament
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