In recent years it has become increasingly rare to come by music that is born purely out of an artist’s unconditional love for the art form. The tectonic plates of popular music have shifted drastically within the last decade, terraforming the traditional landscape of the industry into a barbaric free-for-all where any hope for an artist’s longevity and evolution are forfeited for instantaneous, albeit brief, gratification. However, in spite of this new harsh and irradiated wilderness, there are pockets of civilization, artists who wage war on the mediocrity of today in an effort to preserve the integrity of yesterday. One such warrior is The Sonic Dawn.
The psychedelic trio hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark is composed of bassist Niels Fuglede, drummer and backing vocalist Jonas Waaben, and lead guitarist/singer Emil Bureau. Music was intrinsic to each of their childhoods, growing up with siblings or parents who played instruments and always had a record spinning on the turntable, inferring an almost DNA level connection to music; Emil would even nap in his father’s guitar case. Around the age of 12, Emil and Jonas began a band of their own, fertilizing their passion for music and sowing the seeds for what was to come when Niels, who had not grown up with the others, saw their ad for a bass player in high school; “If you like long walks on the beach, this is not for you.” The trio united and formed The Sonic Dawn, playing shows and writing relentlessly with their debut album Perception arriving two years after the band’s inception. Mere seconds after the first track, “An Easy Heart to Break”, begins with its bayou-blues riff and its drums-of-war thumps, it is crystal clear how thrilled these three are to be making music. The moment Jonas’ drums collide with Niels’ slithering bassline, Emil’s silvery tremolo bursts to the surface, riding on the rhythm section’s slick, rolling current. The album is a gorgeous séance of late 60’s sounds and motifs as if the trio had summoned the ghosts of their idols and enticed them to spill their sonic secrets by offering free acid. The greats are all present, from Jimi Hendrix to Brian Jones with standouts “The Mustang” and “Black Magic Cat” channeling sitar tinged Zeppelin and early Peter Green respectively. It is brave for a band still in its infancy to pay homage to their influences this faithfully as the risk of lingering in something sure and familiar can stagnate and sabotage any intended evolution. However, on their second album, The Sonic Dawn returns wiser and more contemplative, a sentiment that Emil expressed in the band’s interview with Harbinger Magazine; “Real music begins when you become less influenced by music and more influenced by what is happening around and within you”.
Where Perception is a skillful excavation of the old guard’s bluesy and psychedelic remains, their second album, 2017’s Into the Long Night, is an expedition into the desolate unknown. Recorded in the Danish north where daylight is scarce and people even more so, the atmosphere was essential in allowing the band to explore their songwriting fluidity. In turning their attention inwards, they were able to pull from within, a darker, more experimental sound that signifies the dawn of a band willing to distance themselves from their musical influences in order to embrace their own unique sound. The songs on the album are written with a certain Nordic stoicism and wisdom, illustrated beautifully on the introspective waltz “On the Shore” which opens with the candid sentiment “There I am, only a man who feels that I should know better”. Despite the darker atmosphere, the album refuses to be sedated, pushing forward with the druggy trudge of “Six Seven” and the wistful, pensive bounce of “Lights Left On”, a song that makes expert use of tape reversal as a gentle surrogate for the genre’s typically gaudy organ. It is with this album that The Sonic Dawn carve their initials into the reliquary of 21st century rock and roll.
Both albums that follow make good on Into the Long Night’s promise of evolution, with 2019’s Eclipse adjusting the trajectory embracing a more riff driven attitude looking to The Animals in songs like “Love Bird” and “No Chaser”. The songs are poppier, fast and fun, drawing on the pre-psychedelic era of rock and roll with fantastic solos including Emil’s fiery guitar spotlight on “Psychedelic Ranger” that evokes young Dave Davies. The songwriting remains excellent and is especially entrancing on album highlight “Opening Night”, a beautiful and earnest ode to chasing one’s dreams sung in rounds by Emil and Jonas with a subtle nostalgia. By their latest album, 2020’s Enter the Mirage, the trio are masters of their instruments, rocking as a single entity, confident and relaxed. The music is poised, boasting Jonas’ relentless drums, Emil’s intricate guitar play, and Niels’ snaking bass. It is a portrait of a band in its prime and an indication of what is still to come.
When wading into the syrupy, rich discography of The Sonic Dawn, it becomes increasingly obvious that they are a band of their own creation, relying on instinct and passion and cleansing any stain of mainstream influence. It’s as if they stepped out of time to make sense of the modern world, a sentiment Harbinger Magazine’s own Dave Bixby echoed, calling them “time-travelling troubadours”. The ability to make great music in the name of music seems to have faded over the past couple of decades which is what makes a band like this so special. They have not lost their love for the music or for each other, unifying them in their quest to preserve the essence of the art which is passion. As Niels said “For better or worse, we did it ourselves”.