We do like them sturdy and unhinged over here. Bands that refuse classification and drive a pig-headed approach to their music. So far out in the left field that rock radio doesn’t want to find them. Dawnwalker is one of those. Already their last record Ages got us confused at first. But – in the end – it all made some disturbing sense. So, in this unholy year of the Dark Lord 2022, House of Sand spills forth. An equally stubborn offering. And that’s a fascinating prospect. Or is it?
Because – if you build a house on or out of sand, it won’t last long, right? At least, that’s what the lore says. Or do we have concrete in hiding somewhere? Hammer’s out, it’s testing time.
Somebody said that not one of Dawnwalker‘s records sounds alike. That may not be quite true, but House of Sand here indeed ditched most of those vile metal tropes the band boasted before with some raspy remnants remaining. The record’s now so far down Post Metal lane, it actually has more in common with Final Coil’s Somnambulant II EP than it may have with Opeth at this time. In fact, this often sounds like a sturdier version of late Darkher – and that would be a pretty wild change right there.
Dark, often gothic vibes drunk on ambient slightly fuzzy vocals tell a story of death, melancholy, demons, and ghostly appearances. And similar to the aforementioned FC piece, it already starts with the cover art. A somewhat lost long-gone family pictured in front of their home, immediately made me look for otherwordly appearances. And – lo and behold – there’s a face in one of the windows when there should be none. This already sets the scene for what’s to come.
And yet again, Dawnwalker made a record where lyrics almost matter more than the music itself. House of Sand is full of dark, retro-feeling, kinda fuzzy tunes, melodies, and harmonies. Roisin O’Toole‘s ethereal wailing suddenly gets replaced by fierce rasps that come out of nowhere. And all of that sudden energy comes with thundering riffs that emerge out of nowhere like a remembrance of what once was. Just to fall back into an ocean of ambient ditties that by themselves seem strangely incoherent.
The whole production sports the look and feel of playing directly in the house. A quirk that’s done on purpose by having the band play live during recording that nets them this unique sound. And as the storyline advances, a monologue – I guess The Master – appears here and there to move things deftly along in often corny language.
And again, all that is done in a dreamy, somewhat spectral way. Case in point, House of Sand – the title track – actually is a wobbly cover of Elvis Presley’s song of the same name. As if this is a forlorn echo of a long-gone past which is exactly what it is, come to think of it. And in the midst of all those ambient Post Metal eruptions full of piano, violin, and acoustic guitars, Dawnwalker hit you with some pretty sturdy prog. It ain’t as pronounced anymore as on Ages, but some parts of False Door reminded the RMR crew of what Lucassen did in the past.
In other words, whilst House of Sand is proficient, eloquent, and even a tad academic, it is also often overly complex. It’s thus fortunate that the record only sports and airtime of some 43 minutes without bonus tracks. It also means that the album surely won’t attract large crowds of fans. And many a metalhead may very well decry this new offering that’s definitely moving away from the metallic airs of its predecessor. And in truth, it took this reviewer about four listens to really get into the unmistakable groove of a story well told. One that culminates in a final act called – well – House of Sand II.
At the end of the day, Dawnwalker created – yet again – a remarkable record. It ain’t very accessible for sure and the band around Mark Norgate probably won’t worry about that too much. But if you really step into that crumbling house of theirs, it will get you in the end and you will have trouble finding the exit door again. It’s a musical tale of dark vibes, ghostly and almost nostalgic remnants of the past, and an eerie story told through a million tastes and flavors that will resonate in you for a long time. So, if you’re up to that, go for it. We’d however recommend consuming the record in one go. Dissecting it too much might very well wreck the experience and call those ghosts out to haunt you. And you’d not want that, right?