posted on 12/2009 By:
Norwegian avant-garde metal-turned-self-proclaimed-"traumatic electronic" band Beyond Dawn gets some love from certain segments of the underground, seemingly perpetually cited for "defying convention," but in listening to this compilation of their earliest works, it would likely be difficult for the uninitiated to discern just why they're loved or just what conventions they’re defying. Starting out as a black-ish collective on their demos, the band’s 1995 full-length debut Pity Love saw a shift toward morose goth-rock with doom elements. But all of Bygones' tracks predate Pity, so what’s on hand is clearly a portrait of a band in the earliest stages of development, starting out black and ending up far from that as the components of their later sound fell into place. Throughout Bygones, elements of goth, death, doom and second-wave black metal all run headlong into one another, in various degrees at various points in the band's progression.
Bygones is sequenced in reverse chronology, which is to say that the songs from the 1994 EP Longing For Scarlet Days open the set whilst earlier tracks from 1991’s Heaven’s Dark Reflection appear at the end. So it stands to reason that these up-front and latter-day offerings stick closer to the dreariness of Pity Love—with Dag Midblot’s lonely trombone blowing atop down-tempo riffs and world-weary vocals. Although I’m not impressed at all with album-opener "Cold," the Scarlet Days tracks improve as they continue and fully redeem themselves with the gothic "Clouds Swept Away The Colours," which is the first song on hand that managed to hold my attention completely, the first that didn’t sound like a Peaceville Three homage with a horn.
The middle of the record fares better as a listening experience. "Strained, Down And Under" and "Bygone" are solid slices of Celtic Frost-indebted experimental metal, both taken from 1993’s Up Through The Linear Shades, and both of them benefit from the best production values of anything on Bygones. Moving past them and yet before them, the band reverts to a blackness more in line with the scratchy efforts of early Enthroned and Emperor. The rough and uninteresting previously unreleased instrumental "Glass Desert" notwithstanding, these last tracks are enjoyable early-90s Scandinavian black metal, although they’re ultimately just a decent take on a sound the band abandoned wholly just a few years later.
The hodgepodge odds ‘n’ sods nature and backwards sequencing of Bygones makes it a very disjointed listen—the production values of fully half of it are detrimental, and the focus is scattered. As the first of a series of Beyond Dawn re-releases, Bygones does serve its ultimate purpose well—it puts back in print most of the long-lost earliest days of this two-decade-running, genre-switching outfit. Completists and die-hard fans of the band's middle period, of their left-of-center take on blackened goth-doom-whatever will find this interesting—probably more that than truly enjoyable, all told. Those fans preferring the gothic electronic pop/rock of Frysh and Electric Sulking Machine are equally likely to be confused or repelled by the band’s considerably more metallic origins. Regardless, new initiates to the band are advised to proceed with caution and will likely want to seek the later, more developed recordings and let Bygones be bygones.
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