What makes music familiar to you? Perhaps it is your favourite artists’ devotion to Western-friendly chord progressions, a style-conscious adherence to instrumental trends, or a studied dedication to an established production technique. All surely significant elements, but as Richard Dawson’s sixth album Peasant proves, none of them are strictly essential. The Newcastle artist has pinpointed an altogether more fundamental and primary bond between musician and listener: the ancient practice of storytelling.

He is a folk singer, although exercise extreme caution with that word around the man himself, perhaps because of how the term has been co-opted and bowdlerised by a faceless brand of inoffensive troubadours. But the truth is that he is a folk singer. He passes down tales of lore in such a way that respectfully protects the essence of the story’s original expression.

Peasant takes that to a logical next step, set entirely as it is in the kingdom of Bryneich, which occupied the land we now call Northumberland between the years 450-780AD. A concept album, then, but not one that need set your teeth on edge. On the contrary, Dawson is entirely unimpressed by any of the clichés associated with evoking medieval England, particularly those employed by the dinosaurs of 70s prog. We are, mercifully, a long way from Rick Wakeman’s robes or Jethro Tull’s avalonian indulgences.

Instead, this is an ersatz of the medieval North East. Nothing about Dawson’s ravishingly atonal, disruptive sound pictures are actually reminiscent of the specifics of the time and place he is depicting, but they are disorienting and alienating enough that you are sufficiently thrown out of your own world. The effect is that by removing the familiar touchstones, Dawson has planted a blank canvas in our minds, upon which he is free to illustrate this strange new (well, old) world to his heart’s desire. This is all laid out in opener ‘Herald’, which climaxes in a series of arrhythmic staccato stabs of horn and trumpet, a formless and playful warning for us to leave our expectations at the door.

What lies ahead is a character-by-character breakdown of a Bryneich village’s community, a rogue’s gallery of vassals and villeins, each one devoted their own song, with Dawson our minstrel guide through it all. But as anyone who has enjoyed Dawson’s music before can attest to, this grand concept is just his thinly veiled method of writing about the world he lives and breathes in. When the title track of ‘Soldier’ confides, “I’m really scared of going,” or the titular ‘Prostitute’ laments that, “there has to be more than this, is there no reason for me to exist,” you very quickly realise that Dawson is channelling universal struggles to articulate something about the state we find ourselves in now. Can we really have made such little progress in 1500 years?

Guitar strings are attacked, violins are abused, horns are violated, voices are stretched to breaking point. This is not music for coffee shops, but allow yourself to enter its portal and you will be enraptured. Melody remains king on ‘Peasant’, the binding agent in a mixing bowl of diverse, potentially hostile ingredients. Without Dawson’s devotion to melody, we might fairly be lost. But on ‘Ogre’, a serious contender for the song of the year, his idiosyncratic full-throated incantations are genuinely surprising and innately familiar at once. There is an organic energy that is cultivated by this earthy, untechnological approach to music that frequently builds to a point where the band appear unable to control it any longer and songs finish in chaos. It is legitimately exciting to hear.

Peasant is a pretty staggering departure from the massed ranks of 2017’s batch of albums. It is a restorative, headstrong burst of inspiration from an artist with the courage to execute his vision without compromise. If ever an album deserved to rise above the fray, it is this one.