Dawn Ray'd: "Every scene has the potential to be revolutionary"
The British anarchist black metallers in a rich conversation around their new album, the artistic evolution, the current state of the scene and the society and art as a revolutionary perspective
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Dawn Ray'd are, without a doubt, one of the most much applauded bands that have come out of black metal in the last decade. The anarchist black metal group, with each release, along with its general attitude, is the front runner of a wave of red anarchist black metal bands that keeps rising in the last years, and is also regarded as one of the most important bands of the whole scene.
The band's much anticipated return with the amazing "To Know The Light", would be impossible to not move us. So, we didn't let the chance to communicate, anew, with frontman Simon Barr, fly away, so he can speak to us for every matter surrounding the great third LP of the British band. As it happened in our first, extended, interview back in 2019, the musician didn't pull any punches and introduced us to the evolved, widened, sonic landscape of their new album.
The consequences of the pandemic, fantasy, art as a revolutionary perspective, the current state of the scene and the society, and of course, the hope for subversion, dominate the following interview. So, we welcome again the mighty Dawn Ray'd on our website, we listen "To Know The Light" constantly on repeat, and we don't sleep on the struggle to demand the most out of this art that we so much adore.
I think the pandemic nearly destroyed this band
Greetings Dawn Ray'd, I am Apostolis and I welcome you again in Rocking.gr! Congratulations for your new album! It's been almost four years since the release of "Behold Sedition Plainsong". Did the pandemic affect the recordings of "To Know The Light"?
Yes definitely, I think the pandemic has had an impact on everything in so many ways.
The positive side of it is that we had more time to write and rewrite this record, we didn't have to focus on touring or the day to day admin of being in a band which was useful.
However I think it nearly destroyed this band, working so hard at this while not being able to play shows or get any of the benefits of being in a band was really tough, and there were a few points of low morale I think! It made me realise how important all the people I meet on tour are to me, all our friends around the world, and without them I found it hard to keep going at times.
You don't want to write the same album twice
In this record, the themes get a little bit more personal, though staying overtly political. I feel that you tried to exorcise some kind of darkness inside, even political, speaking of more (anarcho-)nihilistic elements, and sound more hopeful. Am I correct?
Yeah definitely. Our friend organised an anarchist reading group online during the pandemic and we read "Desert" and "Blessed Is The Flame" together, and that was our first introduction to anarcho-nihilism, and it made a profound impact on us.
Also seeing what Covid 19 did to the world was shocking, it made you realise you can't take your life for granted, and so many of the things we rely on hang by a thread. We then really wanted to explore the emotions of being involved in this struggle; it is so easy to be outward facing when worrying about the state of the world, but its good to keep your own head in check as well.
That said it is a fiercely political record, just in a different way to our previous records. You don't want to write the same album twice.
The production this time is richer, giving more depth in the compositions. How difficult was it for you to find your personal sound this time around?
We wanted to do something different, and we moved away from the 'true cult' aesthetic a bit. We tried to draw from all the types of music we like, not just black metal, and record something that was uniquely ours.
Mark Mynett who produced the record was amazing, so creative and insightful, and he really guided us throughout.
Furthermore, in "To Know The Light", your folk influences come to the surface more than ever, as the album includes entirely folk-y tracks and lengthier folk passages, such as in the track "Requital". What attracts you towards that sound that you wanted to explore it more?
We honestly just love that style of music a lot, I love bands like The Watersons, Chumbawamba's folk records, sacred harp singing, we all listen to a lot of traditional music. It's also exciting to find different ways of discussing or presenting these ideas. We also just really wanted this record to be a lot more musical than before.
In the meanwhile, you released a magnificent EP, named "Wild Fire" with two distinct versions of the same song, while in your new album you include one that, let's say, combines them. Was "Wild Fire" a turning point in your compositional approach?
Yeah I think so, it got a limited release so we wanted to include it on the record. I think it sparked the start of trying to reimagine what this band could be, and what different styles we could draw from!
We already find ourselves somewhat separate from the black metal scene
The album contains Dawn Ray'd's elements in their fullest extent. Even Simon's vocals at some point sound more brutal than ever, with synths and harmonium getting also into the mix. Did these kind of experimentations come natural or were you aiming towards something more specific?
We wrote a few songs for the record initially, but we realised we were just going over old ground and not really pushing ourselves. We just sat with each song and tried to work out what we could add, what would make the songs more interesting and more imaginative. There were so many drafts of this record as we slowly added more and more layers until we were happy with it!
We all listen to lots of different types of music, and we wanted to expand what this band could be. We don't aim to be a Darkthrone clone, we already find ourselves somewhat separate from the black metal scene, so we wanted to do something that was entirely ours.
I do think we have managed to carve out and hold a left wing space in this scene
Since 2019 and "Behold Sedition Plainsong", the band has gotten noticeably bigger, reaching more audience. Do you feel that the metal scene in the last years has changed at all, regarding the macho, sexist, and fascist elements of its culture, and if yes, how?
Its so hard for us to judge as I guess nazis don't come to our shows, so we don't always get the best overview of what's happening! I do think we have managed to carve out and hold a left wing space in this scene, and I really feel like a lot of people are openly anarchist, queer, antifascist, and political in a way that wasn't possible before.
Communities are always stronger when they are more diverse
We have a lot of trans and queer folks at our shows which always melts my heart, it is awesome supporting and being supported by people who seem different to you, but you realise we are all on the same side. Communities are always stronger when they are more diverse, and ee all have so much to learn from each other. All my love to the queer community!
Our scene had a shameful nazi problem
As the years come by, more and more black metal bands come forward, clarifying their political beliefs and taking a stand against the problems of the scene. How do you see the state of "red anarchist black metal" and the anti-fascist movement inside metal in the present day? What do you think are its possibilities in the (near) future?
I love it, it feels so different to 2015 when we started. I think we were all always here but now there is a safe space for us to talk about this, and openly oppose oppressive ideas. I think every scene has the potential to be revolutionary; I became an anarchist when I got given a zine at a hardcore show, I hope to be able to pass that on to some other folks as well!
Our scene had a shameful nazi problem, and if we can successfully continue to overcome that it will hopefully be a positive message to all scenes and subcultures that you can defeat the fascist creep anywhere!
Any newer bands you would like to suggest to our readers?
The new Unyielding Love album is amazing, cavernous, caustic and cathartic death metal! Gravpel and Trespasser are amazing too. Apart from that I feel really out of touch, we haven't been on tour for a few years now so I feel very behind! I can't want to correct that!
The cover art is strikingly direct. Would you like to explain us how you came up with it?
I just stumbled across the photographer Remi Moons online, and his work is both emotional and beautiful whilst also being very literal and direct. Ethan McCarthy did an awesome job on the layout too.
We have also included a reading list on the back, I wonder if this will be the first time you might hear about Errico Malatesta or The Invisible Committee from looking at records in a corporate record shop…
How did you decide to choose as the first single of the record, the "Ancient Light" song?
I guess it felt like the most commercially accessible song on its own, and it really showcases the new elements of this band. Ultimately though I want people to listen to the record in full, as it makes more sense that way.
Music videos are an industry technique to sell records
In the accompanying video clip you give instructions into how to make a protest mask, and in your merch you have a t-shirt with instructions on how to make a molotov cocktail. What are you aiming for with this kind of choices?
Music videos are basically trailers for the record, they are an industry technique to sell records, so to try and undermine that corporate intention we thought it would be cool to include some genuinely radical information in there. We are keen to use this platform to fight for freedom and a better life in any way we can. It felt like a fun subversion! Also it is fun to keep testing the boundaries of what we can get away with.
Fantasy can give us a good abstract view of struggle, that may help us reevaluate some institutions that rule over us
You start the record with the second single of the album, "The Battle Of Sudden Flame", whose title is a reference to the Lord Of The Rings literature. Lyrically, you focus on police brutality, and as a way of state control (as Discharge have eloquently said so). How do these two interconnect within your minds? Why are people so attracted to the idea of someone else imposing (by force) order unto them?
Big question! Fantasy has long been a way to critique society in a less direct way, with a certain amount of plausible deniability. It is odd how people support rebels and freedom fighters in a story, but then pledge allegiance to some horrendous government in the real world. I think fantasy can give us a good abstract view of struggle, that may help us reevaluate some institutions that rule over us. Ursula Le Guin, Tolkien, NK Jemesin and Terry Pratchett and even Star Wars are all great examples of that. I love the idea of reframing these struggles, they aren't dry philosophical discussions or far away wars that are nothing to do with us, they are very real struggles for freedom, happiness, to preserve love and life.
For the most part fascist governments are supported by ordinary people
Why do people support fascism? I think you have a few anti-social, sadistic, insecure or psychopathic people that delight in cruelty, but for the most part fascist governments are supported by ordinary people who either want to pull up the drawbridge and protect their own wealth, or are so terrified of the world that they willingly trade their freedom for safety and protection, or the promise of it.
Separate the art from artist I guess...
You close the album with the grandiose "Go As Free Companions", whose pipe organ, if I recall correctly, was recorded at St Paul's church in Huddersfield. How was the experience of recording into a church, taking into account the whole black metal mythology?
Well, we didn't really have a plan for that on the real record, I had recorded it midi for the demo, and then one day Mark Mynett came to us and he had taken the liberty of just organising the recording of it himself! It was this really awesome collaborative moment.
I honestly love a lot of church buildings and lots of religious music, because all those things stem from human imagination, and only make me love human beings more, not some invented deity. If people want to burn them down I won't stop them, but the human creativity that sometimes is found in them can be inspiring! Separate the art from artist I guess…
Every time you vote you confirm to yourself that help might come from above
In "Sepulchre (Don't Vote)", you focus on one of the core anarchist beliefs, that of declining to vote. In the lyrics, you, cleverly mention: "Those who hate the problems, but deify the cause". Many people, even though they respect the anarchist principles and ideals, will still defend the right to vote, as necessary tool of social change. What would you say to them?
The argument is that it only takes a few minutes to vote and therefore you should do it anyway, as another way to try and improve things or resist.
The problem with this is every time you vote you confirm to yourself that help might come from above, that maybe one day a government will act in our best interests. That is a huge misunderstanding of how capitalism works, and does a lot to harm our collective power, as we entrust some of that power to people who only seek to control and govern us. A government will never solve this. It was an election that brought every fascist government to power. Voting and elections are a performative event, created to make us feel like we have a small amount of control in a machine that has no interest in helping the working class. The sooner we realise that, the more effectively we will organise and fight back.
Every election so far has led to the mess we are in now! Does it feel like it is working?!
Nothing makes me cry more than a political speech at a show!
I caught you in the surprise gig at last year's Roadburn Festival, and you were really great, but also communicative, something that I appreciated. How important is it for political bands to be vocal and create safe spaces in large festivals, with mixed lineups?
I don't like to tell other people how they should perform or create art, but I personally feel like the world is so fucked, society and our communities are so fractured and divided that it feels really urgent to try and create those spaces. I feel like we haven't got a second to waste honestly.
I also find it to be a really emotional and beautiful thing when bands talk about these things, what is more beautiful than people trying to make the world a better place, standing up for the vulnerable, and creating moments of catharsis for people who all believe the same thing. Nothing makes me cry more than a political speech at a show!
It's all well and good telling others what they should do, but what are you doing to fight for freedom?
Except for the lyrical themes, the aesthetics and the live shows, how else can an artist influence radical social change? Do you think that art is limited in its political influence, ultimately?
I mostly see art's role as agit-prop, and maybe community building. Beyond that we have to be actually taking action to protect the world and each other. It's all well and good telling others what they should do, but what are you doing to fight for freedom? At some point these ideas have to translate into actual change in the real world.
The music industry can die, but you will never kill music!
Final questions, and I would like to thank you for your time, it really means a lot. I feel that the music industry and especially the touring industry is crumbling with the costs and the general post-pandemic crisis. How difficult is it for an underground black metal band to tour and reach new audiences today?
It is getting harder, US visa costs have trippled, vehicles cost more, fuel costs more, t-shirts cost more to print now… but the music industry can die, but you will never kill music! I don't like to dwell on how hard it is honestly, this is just where we are, this is the time we were born into. It is capitalism that creates all this problems, so that is where we should focus our energy; in dismantling it.
In the meantime, I feel lucky to be able to play music and meet people, and I really try and not take that for granted. Life is hard, the world us fucked, but there is still beauty and magic to be found!
Any future plans that you would like to share with us? I would like to wish you the best, and I hope we can see you here in Greece for a live sometime at the future. The final words are yours!
We just want to get back to touring again, and make up for the years we lost to the pandemic. I really hope we can be in Greece as a part of that soon!
Fuck fascism, fuck the state, fight for beauty, love and freedom!