Tuomas Saukkonen may be a one-trick pony, but it’s one good god damn trick. Those who think otherwise should proceed to pick up a guitar and try to write a melodic Death Metal song that hasn’t already been written. Go ahead, I’ll wait… In the meantime, let’s dissect Rise of the Phoenix, the 7th full-length from Before the Dawn, and quite possibly their finest work to date. Saukkonen definitely doesn’t like wasting time, as this album arrives almost exactly one year on the heels of Deathstar Rising, and don’t forget the Black Sun Aeon —basically a Doomier Before the Dawn— double-LP sandwiched in between. I believe we have the Finnish Melodeath version of Rogga Johansson on our hands. Luckily Phoenix shows no sign of an overbearing workload, rather a man dedicated to his craft catching absolute creative fire in his prime. While Deathstar was a very enjoyable ride, this follow-up is a notable improvement that sees the few minor flaws of its predecessor ironed out, with a bit of the fat trimmed away as well. Gone are the clean vocals of Lars Eikind that, while admittedly missed at times, would often piss in the gravy of otherwise solid cuts. His dynamic’s absence is more than compensated for by some of the most alluring passages that Saukkonen has ever penned. Ever-soaring melodies in the same goosebump-inducing vein as fellow gloom-dealing countrymen Insomnium, with glorious echoes of pre-mindloss Amorphis honed and perfected. This remarkably catchy record is a nearly flawless fusion of the aggressive and the depressive, the morose and the intense. Just listen to those grief-laden, blastbeaten verses transition to majestic choruses on “Pitch-Black Universe” and “Phoenix Rising.” The double-bass-fueled pummel/epic melody combo on the headbangable “Cross to Bear” is capable of giving Amon Amarth a run for their money anytime, while the despondent elements of “Throne of Ice,” “Fallen World,” and somber closer “Closure” just might have the most hardened of Viking warriors crying in his mead. Another in a long list of must-hears that is Mr. Saukkonen’s resume.
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