Song Analysis: Dawning – “Pilgrimage to Umunhum”

In this article we shall see how Dawning manages to juggle various styles of doom and black metal while letting a fifteen minute song to mature as well as keep the listener hooked. Join us in this existential pilgrimage to Umunhum!

Throughout this song we see an increase of emotion. Thus, to make it as natural as possible, a grand space of time is allowed for the ideas to grow with tiny differentials in entropy, namely, accidentals. Thus, the song lasts for over 15 minutes and revolves around certain patterns, which are melodic ideas that bear similarities and for the sake of convenience we shall assign a (possibly subjective) emotion/name to them:

A → Ildjarnic landscape keyboard

B → Necromantian crazy riff

Similar to Mussorgsky’s leitmotif Promenade, we see theme A gradually changing slightly, as it becomes molested by B, while B in turn becomes even more chromatic and perverse as the song progresses, pushing personal tragedy to the limit and evoking pure nadir. Life entails suffering; in this idea is the core value of doom. Suffering gives meaning and as the clouds pass, reveals a sense of awe and understanding – this is the soul of blackness and death.

In the vein of funeral doom bands, “Pilgrimage to Umunhum” begins with a synth melody much like the ones that Immortal and Ildjarn use when they attempt to paint mountainous sceneries. See Landscapes and Mountains of Might. The austere keyboards move from D to C on the bass while the lead is centered around a helix of 3rd intervals around the bass that exhale melancholy. Generally this I – VII harmonic progression with a melancholic lead melody is an easy and inexhaustible way of song writing, from Iron Maiden to Linkin Park.

The sound I have always aimed for with Dawning is to take a synthed out movie soundtrack and cross it with raw doom or black metal guitars and vocals. With a hint of ambient (backwards vocals, chimes, timpani drums) – Steve Cefala

This soon evolves into a slow tempo tremolo picking torrent reminiscent of Greek black metal in tone (Thou Art Lord) and is tied to the keyboard theme by being almost identical to it.

Suddenly, it jumps from the key of D-flat to the key of F. This move was apparently rushed, but it makes perfect sense if you can use the circle of fifths. The key and tempo change creates a feeling of urgency, of danger, yet it does not defy traditional harmony.

Then the starting theme returns on the key of F only to be stripped stripped of its black metal elements, leaving a goth-rock rhythm behind, achievable by keeping the melody the same.
The keyboard melody returns, now complete and accompanied by distortion.

Silence.

Taking advantage of the pause, a frenetic melody reminiscent of the one before starts with a key change from F to C major Hungarian scale. Keyboards with a slightly different and more industrialized tone play single notes centered above the guitar alternate picked riff. Then we move to D harmonic minor. Chromaticism is slowly taking over through the increasing amount of half step intervals and serialist logic is creeping in. Another way to view it perhaps could be as mini transpositions of small riffs, like small dialogues. Things here are slightly normal, still. But after those accidentals, tritones start to dominate. And the evil part begins anew. But this time it ends with doom. A traditional doom riff with a hint of the pentatonic scale, centered on the, now natural, chords of G5 and E5.

The deceleration opens the way for an acoustic part, while the keyboards breed familiarity by playing wicked melodies based on A. Then an increasingly chromatic version of the previous riff which is based on B returns, bounces on a doom riff and comes back to give way to a flange effect.

The flange effect is a clever trick that acts like silence. It hides various instruments forming disharmonic cacophonies. It also simulates altitude and lack of oxygen. Like silence, now the song can go anywhere.
From this nebula of possibilities, a roaring Roland JV keyboard emerges to scale the summit. Then a pause happens. And the scenery changes.

In the end the keyboard riff A of the introduction returns, slightly altered, but now, as full chromaticism has paved the way, the classic black metal stormy rhythm accompanies the music. Nothing new has been learned. All that was suspected was experienced. All that was forecasted occured. And this is tragic.

This simple but quite experimental song, shows why a good metal band can kick ass through, often unconscious, mastery of key changes, silence and tempo. Although they are distinct genres, metal and classical share the same spirit – or should we say ‘structural reasoning’ instead?

On the other hand, we cannot put this music on a genre spectrum. Doom/death is a silly title. Dark metal is vague and unexpected. Dawning is one of those rare bands that have paid no respect to man-made borders of expression but have only respected the spirit of metal. And this is a rarity.

Overall, this music has parallels to landscape wanderings: songs wander around but not further than one can hike to. They don’t need to stray far to be interesting and revolve around a few main themes, yet like a mountain that looks different depending on your perspective and distance to it, such is the music of Dawning, as well as bands like Summoning, who are passionate and serious about what they do. One carries his problems and ends up in a stoic conclusion on Umunhum, leaving the everyday behind, imagining things, ending up lost on a decaying radar base. You can read Brett Stevens’ Dawning interview here:

Interview with Steve Cefala (Dawning)

And you can enjoy Dawning’s music here:

https://dawning1.bandcamp.com/album/mount-um-1997-demo

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10 thoughts on “Song Analysis: Dawning – “Pilgrimage to Umunhum””

  1. I like the atmosphere. It reminds me of nights in the Hanoi Hilton when I could not decide whether I wanted to kill my father and fuck my mother, or fuck my Vietnamese captives and kill my father, and I pondered this mobius quandary long into the night by the light of my egalitarian conscience.

  2. Everything about this Steve Cefala guy is so strange to me. A metal musician that joined a Christian cult, and then received death threats? Posting comments about Jesus and ending discrimination on a site antithetical to those viewpoints? From San Jose (one of the least inspiring places on Earth, and never hosting a regional metal “scene”) and writing in the spirit of black metal all the way back to the mid/late 90’s? Where did Cefala draw his inspiration from? His work definitely touched upon something special, even if it was a bit unveloped. Often times these neat relics had some ingredients of greatness, but lacked the circumstances and additional people to fully actualize.

    1. RDS says:

      Steve Cefala is a modern day folk hero and legend. MMA fighter, adult film star, USBM innovator. He’s lived one of the most interesting lives of anyone I know.

      1. Onanymous says:

        And you must be his manager?

    2. You must be new here. This is not that weird for old school metal guys. They all seem to be militant realists who also recognize some sort of underlying spiritual reality, more like in a Hermetic, New Thought, or pagan sense than the usual Jesusy Jive(tm). Not that many of them die of AIDS however. That was limited to semen-gargling, catamite-molesting, miscegenating, and anal spelunking expert Chuck Schuldiner (who fucking died of fucking AIDS).

  3. I like this a lot better than the post-rock/shoegaze/hardcore/grindcore/emo/indie/drone/sludge hybrid that “modern black metal” has become. What a bucketload of moral, mental, and artistic feminization of the warlike masculine aesthetic of original black metal, but still less feminized than half-Jew half-barmaid Chuck Schuldiner who actually fucking died of actual fucking AIDS.

    1. LostInTheANUS says:

      The Earth is not flat but my wife’s chest is.

  4. Steve says:

    I don’ believe in flat Earth, but I have noticed that the globe seems to be spinning faster as world events are speeding up.

    Are there any metalheads in Bakersfield who would befriend me. I have been shunned by the locals.

  5. Steve says:

    See, that’s the problem with metal right there. Unless you hit every show there isn’t even anyone around to listen to a few DM cd’s with and shoot the breeze with…

    Now if I was playing cuntry music…

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