Album Title: By Night
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 18 February 2022
Never having listened to a single second of any of Dagoba’s previous seven albums, this review could have gone in any number of directions. However, the fact that I am offering my thoughts on it, should tell you that album number eight is not a car crash as far as I’m concerned. Billed for much of their existence as a modern industrial groove metal band, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from ‘By Night’, especially given the unashamedly 80s-inspired cover art, complete with a wolf and a Ferrari Testarossa, arguably the ugliest of the creations from Lamborghini’s inferior competition. With controversy like that to kick things off, how on Earth will my review of ‘By Night’ pan out?
Formed back in 1997, it would appear from this record, that the French quartet are on a mission to try new things and take their music in a different direction. As I span ‘By Night’ for the first time, my overriding thought was, ‘this is not at all what I was expecting to hear’. As the album came to a close, I even remarked on social media that I wasn’t sure whether I liked the music or not. I therefore decided to go in for a second listen. And it was on this second run through that I started to warm to the material. As I sit here now, I can state that I’m not enamoured by everything that Dagoba dish up here. But crucially, my overriding impression of it is positive.
Tentative electronic sounds creep out of the speakers with the introduction of ‘Neons’. As the music continues, it builds, creating a dark, futuristic soundscape upon which the guitars of Richard De Mello eventually emerge to increase the intensity, albeit in a measured fashion rather than all-out heavy attack. It’s an interesting start.
Another futuristic electronic sound ushers in ‘The Hunt’. With a solid beat from drummer Theo Gendron, pulsing bass work from Kawa, and a chunky riff, laced by repeated electronic sounds, this is more in the vein of what I was perhaps expecting, given the modern, industrial sheen. And then in comes vocalist Shawter, who is arguably the strongest weapon in the Dagoba armoury; at least on the showing here at least. Initially growling with real venom, he is a commanding presence at the front and centre of the track, and indeed many other songs on ‘By Night’ too. It’s a catchy composition that blends the heaviness with plenty of groove until the midpoint, at which point the song injects a very melodic section, with the introduction of clean vocals and a lessening in the aggression. I wasn’t expecting that, but I really like it, I must admit.
Up next is ‘Sunfall’, another track that starts off with menace and a really dark vibe. However, the chorus is full-on modern melodic metal, as Shawter unleashes a clean croon with a gritty edge and an impressive range, hitting high notes with seeming ease. In between the hook-laden chorus are growls, stop-start riffing, and a pleasant quota of metallic intent. As always, the keys play a prominent part in the song, delivering that modern sheen, and a softening of some of the harsher edges. This is possibly my favourite track as it stands right now, as those melodies are pretty irresistible.
By contrast, ‘Bellflower Drive’, whilst undeniably heavy, has a much more heavy ‘pop’ metal feel to it, not dissimilar to the likes of Amaranthe, but with Shawter providing the various vocal styles all by himself which is an impressive feat. I do like the cinematic orchestral closing segment too, I must admit; it’s a nice touch.
Another high point includes ‘On The Run’ which takes the pop metal stylings of the previous track and runs off with them into the distance. Benefitting from the addition of a female vocalist who isn’t credited anywhere that I can find on the Interweb, it is a glossy, immediate track, more in the vein of a ballad in terms of the slower, more measured tempo and the sprawling chorus. And that chorus is rather beautiful as well as incredibly catchy and addictive. I also like the addition of the piano notes in the introspective intro as well as later within the track.
If I’m being honest, I feel that the second half of the album is a little less interesting to my ears than the first half. That might be because the first half has some really strong moments rather than the second half being substandard. However, I do find my interest waning in the latter stages until I’m greeted by penultimate song ‘The Last Crossing’ which reintroduces the energy and urgency of earlier songs, as well as lacing it with another huge chorus that sounds great as it transitions into one of the biggest, chunkiest riffs heard anywhere on the album.
To bookend the record, closer ‘Stellar’ is another electronic-led instrumental that’s all about creating another dark, foreboding, cinematic soundscape. It’s a nice if a little unremarkable ending to ‘By Night’; I’d have preferred another punchy metal song to end on, but that’s perhaps just me. All in all, I find myself far more impressed and entertained by Dagoba’s latest effort than I expected after my first exposure to it. Whether hardcore older fans will like it remains to be seen, but I like it and there is something about it that draws me in each and every time. It isn’t perfect, and it’s not the kind of metal that I’d choose to listen to on a daily basis if I’m honest. However, if you’re looking for a professional, well put together slab of modern melodic metal that is keen to experiment with different sounds and ideas, then ‘By Night’ should definitely be on your radar.
The Score of Much Metal: 82%
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