Album: Ad Majorem Dei Glorium
Genre: Symphonic Black Metal
Release Date: October 31, 2021
Album length: 39 Minutes
- For the Greater Glory of God
- Shadow of Thy Wings
- Art That Depicts the End of the World
- Gathering of the Ancients
- Light Warriors
- Holy Grail
- War Across the Ages
- I Never Knew You
Who should listen: Antestor, Dark Lay Still, Roots of Tragedy
Cullen Toner, playing here as Dawnbreaker is singularly amazing. Click this link (opens new window) if you want to see what I mean. As if playing all the instruments in an entire band by yourself isn’t enough, Mr. Toner has two one-man bands going concurrently. Check out the release dates and you will see three albums released in 2020 and two more added in 2021. I get that with covid lockdowns some people had more free time on their hands, but wow. Just wow.
From the sheer number of albums released, I would expect this album to be mediocre at best; a pastiche at worst, but that’s not what I discovered. Again, wow!
From the Dawnbreaker press release for this album, “Ad Majorem Dei Glorium is the second album of a planned trilogy of albums with shared stories and themes. Revolving around different Christian heroes that arise to confront a plague that has devastated the Earth, the ‘Light Warriors’ trilogy features musical motifs that continue through each album.”
The album title translates to For the Greater Glory of God, which is the title track off this album.
All that I do
For the greater glory of God
All that I am is for his greater glory
The opening of the album raises eyebrows. There is an odd, seemingly out of place marching drum intro, which I suppose is there to remind us of the (spiritual) ‘war metal’ flavor of Dawnbreaker, but once that fades into the real music, Dawnbreaker leaves no doubt that he’s not messing around. With track after track of solid, pummeling, creative black metal, this album is a delight to listen to.
Time and again I found myself surprised at the genre-bending nature of this album. Classified as symphonic black metal, and rightly so, there is a definite ‘core’ influence noticed on some tracks, and the third track, Art That Depicts the End of the World, has an 80s power metal vibe that provides a nice departure to shake things up. That track has a guest vocalist of a completely different nature than Mr. Toner. It’s a gutsy move, but they nail it, and it turns out to be one of the best tracks off the album.
While the front half of the album has a more playful, experimental feel to it, the back half gets more serious and focused. With loads of brutal metal, the song themes grow in levity and address topics like the apocalyptic end times return of Christ, Judgment Day, and a warning straight from Scripture that not all who proclaim to be in Christ actually are. We all would be wise to remember that and examine our own hearts in response.
Yes there is a God, he surely isn't dead
Hell is the "great unknown" to those who reject his creed
But as for me,
I believed - and was saved! (from I Never Knew You)
There is a lot to love about this album. The vocals are top-notch, though a little understated relative to the music. It would be nice to have the vocals a scootch bit louder since they are done so well. The production is fine, with the sound of the instruments coming through clean and clear. The musicianship on Ad Majorem is first rate. I can see why Mr. Toner has been part of the scene for so long: he’s a talented musician!
The greatest strength of this album is the creative flourishes sprinkled liberally throughout. Ad Majorem is not a one-dimensional album, and Mr. Toner is to be applauded loudly for his derring-do in taking musical risks. For the most part they pay off.
For the most part.
The biggest downside to this album is the symphonics. I need to check myself here because I’m not a big fan of symphonic metal to begin with. I don’t mind it when it’s done well, but I don’t gravitate toward it. Largely speaking, I need to just let the symphonics be what they are and not complain about them. But in this case, there seems to be a lot of discordant tones in the symphonics that threw me off while listening to the album. I have to assume the discord was intentional, but to me it was a distraction. Not all of the symphonics are discordant, but the discord exists enough times to be distracting.
That said, this album has far more high points than low points, and the low points make the high points seem even more high, so it all works out in the end.
Though most of the songs on Ad Majorem are longer than five minutes, they don’t feel that long. Dawnbreaker creatively uses musical variations and tonal differences to break up the songs and give them somewhat of an epic feel. I’m sure the seeming shortness is also because the music is played blazingly fast, except in those places where things are slowed down to a symphonic crawl.
Dawnbreaker uses loads of symphonic elements in this album. They add flavor in places; other times they feel forced or overdone. Though I’m not a huge fan of symphonic metal, Dawnbreaker mostly uses symphonics wisely in this album, and in the places where I find discord, other listeners might find gold.
Ad Majorem, though more symphonic-driven than past Dawnbreaker albums, has cleaner production and more variation than what we have heard previously. It is a solid album and one well worth listening to it. Please check it out below!
It’s tough to pick one track. Art That Depicts the End of the World is a great track, but it’s a one-off in this album. The closing track, I Never Knew You, is a brilliant track, but again, it’s a one-off (toned down and slow), so not a good ‘best song’ option. The best all around song that represents this album well is War Across the Ages. Lyrically about the return of Christ to defeat sin and death, filled with crushing metal, and despite the sing-songy but catchy piano tune, this track is golden.