Written by: Continuous Thunder
In the world of heavy psych-rock, the majority of influences often come from the rock bands of the ‘70s, and if we’re honest, the modern bands more resemble hard rock and early heavy metal. Ultimately, this is understandable; modern heavy psych likely comes from a desire to trace heavy music back to its roots, and the origin of heavy metal is often, though not without contention, considered to be Black Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut. As such, many of the sounds and aesthetics emulated in heavy psych come from the time period immediately before and after that key event. You rarely hear modern bands going for the sound of the true psychedelic rock of the mid-’60s, and that’s why The Sonic Dawn is different.
Hailing from Denmark, The Sonic Dawn completely embrace original psychedelic rock in ways few modern bands do, right down to the floral shirts and mustaches.
This is evident from the first seconds of Enter the Mirage. “Young Love, Old Hate” kicks off with rattling shakers, lightly overdriven tweed amps, and tube tremolo. The lyrics lament how people tend to become more intolerant and closed-minded as they get older, likely referencing how the generation that gave us the Summer of Love are now the ones more interested in maintaining old-fashioned values. To prove that this wasn’t just a one-song gimmick, “Hits of Acid” starts off with reverse tape effects similar to The Beatles’ studio experimentations and introduces a Hammond organ into the mix. By now, you should be thoroughly convinced that these guys are in this bit for the long haul.
From there, they just keep ticking off items from the psych-rock checklist. “Loose Ends” has an extended instrumental ending with a droning organ and sitar. The title track uses Middle Eastern scales and especially jangly guitars to approximate sitars and other exotic instruments. “Sun Drifter” uses vocal echo effects, and “UFO” uses vintage synths to create otherworldly sounds. They’re consistent with their use of effects as well. Tape effects appear on “Children of the Night,” “Shape Shifter,” and “Sun Drifter” in the form of warble-y delays and more reverse effects. Even when they do decide to get a little heavier in the second half of “Shape Shifter” and the solo of “Soul Sacrifice,” they use distortion effects that are period correct like overdriven amps, treble boosters, and console-direct distortion a la George Harrison’s tone on “Revolution.”
If it’s starting to sound like The Sonic Dawn is taking my analogy of a psych-rock checklist a little too seriously, that’s honestly a fair assessment. These guys are definitely shooting for the sound of a specific era, and they’re hitting as many key characteristics as they can. But it’s worth noting that it’s done relatively well. Yes, you can clearly pick out influences from big names of the ‘60s like The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The 13th Floor Elevators, and even some Pink Floyd, but they’re tonally consistent and nothing feels out of place or like they’re using a certain effect just for the sake of using it. And most importantly, they’re not boring like so many heavy psych bands tend to be.
There are a couple of things that I’m less enthusiastic about. For instance, I find some of their lyrical content to be a little too on-the-nose. There’s “Hits of Acid,” lyrics like “why don’t we go and get high,” and the song “Join the Dead” is about exactly what you think it’s about: joining the “psychedelic fellowship” of Deadheads and following the Grateful Dead on tour. There are also a few inconsistencies in the production. They do a decent job of getting the drums and other instruments to sound sufficiently vintage without sounding like they were actually recorded in 1967, but the vocals can sometimes be a little too clean and crisp and they can sit a little too prominently in the mix on a couple of tracks. But these are pretty minor in light of the album as a whole.
Overall, Enter the Mirage is a meticulously crafted and enjoyable love letter to the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s. It’s pretty refreshing to hear a take on this era of rock music in a scene that’s full of bands worshipping the 1970s. If you’re tired of all the Sabbath and Thin Lizzy clones, give The Sonic Dawn a try.
The Sonic Dawn - Enter the Mirage was released on May 1, 2020, onHeavy Psych Sounds
Continuous Thunder reviews even more music both inside and outside the realm of metal on his own blog, conveniently entitled Continuous Thunder. Now that you're done reading this, you should head over there and check it out!
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!