Before the Dawn – Stormbringers (Napalm Records)Wednesday, 28th June 2023
Back in 2013, when Tuomas Saukkonen made the decision to shelve all of his musical projects to begin anew with Wolfheart, it was a curious moment for yours truly. Sure, Tuomas starting a new project was huge news – the guy never fails in the quality department – but losing some of my favorite bands in the process? That was bittersweet, especially when it comes to Before the Dawn. One of the most unique interpretations of the melodic death metal genre, seemingly gone forever – seemingly being the key word. As stated in our very own interview with Tuomas, a series of events led to the ultimate reformation of Before the Dawn, the most out of the ordinary of which being now singer Paavo Laapotti performing a cover of “Deadsong” on the Finnish version of the singing competition show The Voice, of which he finished an impressive second. This led to Tuomas connecting with him, recording a song titled “Downhearted” in 2022, of which became the reformed Before the Dawn.
To which brings us to the elephant in the room – Lars Eikind, aka the band’s most synonymous clean vocalist; an integral part of Before the Dawn’s most acclaimed period. Having unexpectedly recorded a brilliant new song titled “The Final Storm” in 2021 for the vinyl re-release of the band’s landmark album Deadlight featuring Eikind, the possibility of him potentially joining up again on a permanent basis certainly was a novel idea. When the previously mentioned single “Downhearted” and subsequent comeback album Stormbringers cemented the band’s return, Eikind not being involved was indeed a surprising development. However, do not take this as a slight towards Laapotti’s involvement, as we’ll investigate at length in this review – his emerging vocal talents are the catalyst of Before the Dawn’s triumphant return.
With that wordy introduction completed, let us sink our teeth into Stormbringers, being the band’s eighth full-length, and first in over a decade. After an ominous synth-driven intro via the aptly titled “The Dawn,” we’re quickly enraptured by Juho Räihä’s bombastic guitar melodies via “Destroyer”; the blissfully familiar and integral lifeblood of the Before the Dawn soundscape. Saukkonen – now exclusively helming the drum duties – provides a robust and pulsating rhythmic backbone, filling out the low end admirably along with the basslines of Pyry Hanski. Provider of all vocals harsh and clean, Laapotti’s range impresses; his growls low and nasty, with his cleans emotive and soulful. This is vintage mid-to-late 2000s Before the Dawn, with the melodies being the driving force, along with the intricately written compositions and soaring choruses.
Tracks such as “Reveries” and “Chains” bring a sustained crunch and a clean/harsh layered vocal attack – a trait that is commonplace on Stormbringers. “Divided” changes the pace slightly by adding acoustic guitars and pianos to temporarily lighten the mood, before enormous riffs take the helm of what ultimately is one of the heaviest songs on offer. A keen combination of clean guitars and soaring arrangements makes “The Dark” one of the most diverse pieces, while “Chaos Star” would fit right on on Deadlight with its memorable leads that burn themselves into the listener’s brain.
In many ways, this is the Before the Dawn you remember from years ago, yet, it’s also a new and refreshed band who has recharged and conjured a behemoth of an album that sets a definitive marker down in the melodic death metal realm. Any fan of the aforementioned style, or just brilliantly composed music in general, would be doing themselves an unforgivable disservice by missing Stormbringers. Tuomas hasn’t led us astray yet, and he certainly isn’t starting now. This, along with Majesties’ Vast Reaches Unclaimed, are the best examples of melodic death metal prowess thus far in 2023, each zoning in on two uniquely different styles of which are both played to near perfection. For Tuomas, like Ash from the Evil Dead series of horror flicks, this line of dialogue fits so well of both his musical output and this album: ‘Hail to the King, baby.’