It seems appropriate in the wake of Jeff Hanneman’s untimely demise that I should find myself confronted with an album centered around themes of war and humanity’s endless quest for destruction. Just Before Dawn (or Precis Innan Gryningen as the name is translated in their native Swedish) is a death metal project conceived by Anders Biazzi and that perennial figure of old school death metal, Rogga Johansson. In somewhat of an unusual twist, these two are joined on JBD’s debut outing by no less than seven(!) different vocalists over eight tracks, not to mention Rick Rozz who contributes a bit of guest solo work. Sound interesting? Just a bit.
The title track of the album sets the scene with a collage of screams, flying steel and shell bursts. A lone surviving voice then describes how ‘Just before the dawn they came…’. Almost like Bolt Thrower, a heavy tidal wave of riffage and battering drums forces its way past, with Rogga’s slightly gurgled, throaty roars confirming the hellish scene at first light. Throughout the opener, there’s a great sense of urgency and conviction with double bass pounding constantly away and riffs snaking along in accompaniment, with all the skill of a closely coordinated air/artillery attack. As if the title of track two (‘As Death Breaks the Surface’) doesn’t give away the subject matter, those unmistakable blips from a submerged vessel beneath the waves certainly do. This time there’s a deeper tone to the vocals, which are provided by Ralph Hauber of Revel In Flesh, and a slower grind to the music – a kind of hulking pace to reflect the hulking might of the wolfpack. The attack is grim, and in keeping with the pitiless fate dealt out by these (almost) invisible predators.
‘Under the Wheels of Death’ is of a higher tempo again, with Jonas Lindblood’s vocals like a mix of the previous two. More excellent waves of riffing dictate the pace, requiring nothing at all fancy to convey their terrifying subject matter of mechanised warfare. The style reflects the mechanical aspect perfectly, as does Rozz’s squealing – if miniscule – contribution at the end. ‘Pulverised’ seems to set the pattern of the album, with each slightly faster track followed by a crusher. In this weighty composition some nice atmospheric soloing stands out, as do the added sound effects of detonations and fleeing shrieks. In fact, you can almost smell the cordite… Gustav Myrin’s vocals on this one prove to be the most markedly different so far, with a hint of Legion somewhere in their gargled depths. Perhaps my favourite contribution though comes from Zombiefication’s Mr Hitchcock, who exudes a bit of that drunken LG Petrov madness on ‘Ten Megaton War Machine’. Along with a few more involved riffs, there is also an excellent foray into somber, almost bitter melody to make this track stand out.
Jonas Lindblood reappears for ‘Raped Soil’, whose beginning strains sound very reminiscent of the epic approach that Hail Of Bullets have brought to war-torn death metal recently. Musically there is more of the same suffocating heaviness and a general atmosphere of: ‘forget existence, as you are about to be merged with this disfigured, burning landscape’. It is both brutal and sad, with yet more pervasive melody breaking out to inject pathos to this infernal man-made disaster. Elsewhere, ‘Slagfält Efter Slagfält’ would appear to be about the Wehrmacht confronted with oblivion at the hands of the Red Army. The vocals of Dennis Johansson prove to be more demonic than before. Considering the historical context, there would be every reason to sound demented in this situation of ‘Battlefield After Battlefield’, faced with endless, hellish landscapes and repeated Kesselschlacht. The end of the record affirms this sense of absolute doom via the epic ‘The World Burning’. Here, Tony Freed’s is not really your typical death voice, but a fitting choice nonetheless for this epitaph to mankind.
As outlined, the music is consistent and crushing throughout. While I was tempted to think that the changing vocal slots might come across clumsily, every one is so good in its own way that the variation actually benefits the album as a whole. Not only do the individual performances sit comfortably side-by-side, they also provide some excellent shading to this panoramic vision of total war. While ‘Precis Innan Gryningen’ may not be as thematically meticulous as a HOB or as specific and morally detached as the classics penned by (the master) Jeff Hanneman, it is a more than welcome addition to the cannon of war related extreme metal. With such distinguished examples in mind, I’ll award Just Before Dawn a well-earned:
(8.5/10 Jamie Wilson)