"Anarchism has but one infallible, unchangeable motto, 'Freedom.' Freedom to discover any truth, freedom to develop, to live naturally and fully."
So said writer, organizer, and anarchist icon Lucy Parsons almost a century ago, and her words still ring true over the crumbling dystopia in which those she allied herself with—women, people of color, workers, revolutionaries—still struggle for air. Anarchism as a political philosophy has been so distorted by the state, the media, and its own currently obscure status on the leftist spectrum that most of those who seek to understand—or castigate—its principles and tactics still have no concept of that which every anarchist fights for: liberation. Liberation from the state, from the bosses, from hierarchy —liberation from all systems of oppression, for all people.
Despite extreme metal's current slide towards the reactionary right, its inherent sense of rebellion, dislike for authority, and value for individual freedom is far more in line with leftist political philosophies—whether or not all the neo-Nazi filth and rotten Nazi apologists stinking up its darker corners agree. Dawn Ray'd understands this perfectly, channeling that revolutionary spirit into a strain of black metal that owes as much to Iskra and Anti-Cimex as it does the windswept folk traditions of working class Northern England and classic Norwegian black metal. The Liverpudlian trio's new album, The Unlawful Assembly, breathes new fire into black metal's small but sturdy leftist tradition, crafting potent, violin-laced atmospheric black metal songs that double as battle hymns for the class war.
Harsher songs like "Held in a Lunar Synthesis" bluster and snap like freezing winds, balanced by more introspective, mournful laments like "Future Perfect Conditional." The addition of strings and clean vocals—honed during two members' former band, post-hardcore quartet We Came Out Like Tigers—temper the album's more aggressive moments, and add depth, nuance, and overall complexity to what would otherwise already be an excellent black metal record. The violin adds a certain Celtic wildness to the album's melodic passages (unsurprising, given the band's provenance), most notably on the heart-stopping "Island of Cannibal Horse" and gorgeous "The Ceaseless Arbitrary Choice," and adds a note of sadness, too; this isn't a happy album by any stretch. Rather, it splits its fury with grief, and grim resolution. It's not a revolution if you can't dance, but this is far more of a lugubrious waltz than a high-energy jitterbug.
Dawn Ray'd willingness to push their musical boundaries as far as their political convictions sets them apart in an often stagnant scene, and I'm fully comfortable pointing to The Unlawful Assembly as one of 2017's finest extreme metal recordings. (Obviously, I'm a bit biased, as I've been a fan of the band's for awhile and they're one of the few current black metal bands whose politics mirror my own, but still—even if you're one of those bizarre creatures who insist that "metal isn't political!" and change the channel whenever the news comes on, you'll probably dig this record a whole heap of a lot).
"The Unlawful Assembly feels like a realizing of what and who this band is," vocalist and violinist Simon B. told Noisey. "Our debut EP, A Thorn, A Blight, was our first release together as a black metal band, and I'm proud of it, but this record for me is a fully realized example of what this band needs to be. This is the black metal band I want to hear, these are politics I am looking for but never finding in music, and it is the subtlety and also drama that I think black metal is meant to have."
Listen below, and never forget: until we are all free, we are none of us free.
Kim Kelly will see you on the barricades (and on Twitter).