Nearly one year after their breakout debut, the Canadian/American dream team conjure pillars of lush creation on LP #2.
Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):
The shade gate of doom metal is more often than not embellished with the downtrodden, the evil and the oppressive. Across the subgenre's nearly 50 year history, few bands have taken creative liberties in a positive direction. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the subgenre is labeled with doom as its precursor, but a lot of that started to change in the 1990’s. At the height of grunge, metal bands had to find ways to express themselves creatively without falling back into the tired tropes of “I hate God, hail Satan” and moronic stuff like that. Bands were looking to connect with their audience on a more elevated and esoteric level. Think of records like Tiamat’s Wildhoney or Anathema’s Eternity and you can pretty much catch a glimpse of how doom bands were willing to get a little bit more cosmic. Fast forward nearly 25 years and these records would prove invaluable to the duo on display here, that being Dream Unending and their quest to achieve enlightenment through their dream doom sound.
Born out of a desire to create a melding of light and shade, Dream Unending’s core duo of drummer/vocalist Justin DeTore and guitarist/bassist Derrick Vella didn’t take very long to come up with magic with their blending of influences for the debut album Tide Turns Eternal (2021). Fusing the heavy elements of funeral doom bands like Esoteric, Ahab, and Mournful Congregation along with the aforementioned Tiamat and Anathema, the two also bring in a heavy, heavy dose of dream pop ala Lush and Cocteau Twins with the gothic beauty of Dead Can Dance, The Cure, and The Church to create a debut that got the world’s attention, even if you didn’t necessarily love doom metal to begin with. On the duo’s newest offering, Song of Salvation, Vella and DeTore use a less is more approach to create a sophomore record that stands toe to toe with its predecessor and in some cases, rises above.
The opening title track glides almost effortlessly into the listener’s ears much like Entrance on Tide Turns Eternal. The twelve string guitar work from Vella feels like a dream state version of something from Loveless or Spooky. The mid period Anathema feelings also coalesce as he drops down to the six string and DeTore, labeled as The Bridge Between Two Worlds, arrives with drums and our first monstrous growl. Channeling the masters in Damon Good and Greg Chandler, DeTore anchors Vella’s seraphic guitar and bass work while still giving the songs their metallic girth so as not to confuse the listener into believing this is a shoegaze or darkwave album. Monstrous Ahab esque riffs arrive around the 3-4 minute mark and allow you to see the dark side of this kaleidoscopic soundscape that Vella, aka The Architect of Dreams, weaves like a sorcerer’s spell. Pillowy twelve string and boulder shouldering six string guitars weave together like a gordian knot as DeTore waxes philosophical and adds to the heaviness of an already enormous opening song. About halfway into the song, the twelve string gets more menacing and gothic in its texture building. Double bass enters tastefully as Vella solos away before droning feedback, a triumphant heavy metal style riff, and heavenly backing guitars twist together once again to transport you to the top of Everest at sunset. At about the ten minute mark, Vella effortlessly slides into a Steve Vai meets Robin Guthrie inflected solo that mesmerizes the mind as well as tantalizes the ears and gooseflesh. DFJ returns to bring the measured primordial roar into the oceanic waves of sound that wash over the listener. Once more, Vella solos his way straight into your heart. Your journey through the clouds continues as DeTore’s vocals shred the light with thundering vocal strains and meteor hit drum beats. An atmospheric section breaks like the sun through dense fog before Vella and DeTore return with a riff and drum fill pattern that feels like the Jedi minded view of Am I Evil before the final roars tear through your chakra and take you skyward.
If you’ve been looking for the song to truly allow you to ascend this year, look no further than Secret Grief. DeTore’s former Sumerlands bandmate Phil Swanson, aka The Forlorn, calls out like an albatross across the dark sea of twelve string guitars and piano courtesy of Vella’s father David. Then, the transcendental trumpet of Vastum guitarist/vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf, credited as The Siren Call, heralds the dawn of a new day or even a new millennium. This jazzy interlude is exactly one of the many doors that a band like Dream Unending wish to open for not only themselves, but the artists that will no doubt follow in their wake. Dream doom may seem like a hot button talking point with this project but in discussing the concepts that they wish to achieve, Vella has said that he wants to make doom that is not only emotionally resonant but also akin to spiritual experience. With the inclusion of Swanson’s haunting baritone and Abdul-Rauf’s melodious brass cutting through, Dream Unending wish to utilize every spine tingling moment to send you into the stratosphere, even in the confines of a five minute single. Guitars join Swanson, the piano, and simple hi hat before the metallic elements re-emerge to remind you that the light and shade will always mix and twist together. As the song reaches its climax, one of the best solos in the Dream Unending canon arrives to levitate you into the air before dropping you back down into the dark waters of Lethe.
Side A closer Murmur of Voices offers more poetic interplay between the 4AD-ness of the album’s lighter moments and its heavier ones. The guitars interplay to weave a heavenly web of King Crimson meets Ride before the whispering of voices comes in accompanied by soloing that recalls Criss Oliva rolls in to end the first part of the record on a grandiose note.
Side B opener Unrequited is also an instrumental track that follows more in the vein of something on a record from Mournful Congregation or the work of Candlemass from their early days. Drums join in as the psychedelic haze of Vella’s guitar and bass wizardry and DeTore’s measured yet heavy handed drum beats offer a small glimpse of what might have happened if Disembowelment made a second record and decided to take more from Anathema and King’s X rather than Napalm Death and Carcass. It’s a stunning prelude to a song that will stop you dead in your tracks and leave you dumbfounded. 16 minute opus, Ecstatic Reign, finds you in suspended animation before you taking you straight into an overdriven trial by fire. It’s judgement day and this is the soundtrack as DeTore reads off your long list of deeds. Then, a familiar voice returns. Mckenna Rae, who lent her vocal prowess to Tide Turns Eternal, returns once more to conjure a magical Swans/solo Jarboe like atmosphere that oozes with ambience and atmosphere. As soon as Rae comes, she departs like a wraith in the night as DFJ and Vella dig in and bring in a triumphant section that screams Icon era Paradise Lost and then shifts quickly into textures that would recall Alex Lifeson fronting Funeral. This is some of the most dissonant and dare I say frantic material the group have concocted and somehow, it definitely works. This wave is ridden for a few minutes to let the feeling sink in before synth and another familiar voice returns, that of narrator Richard Poe, who also lent his talents to the Dream Unending debut. Another godly poem of waking and being born anew gives way to delicate and fluid guitar lines that sound like Jimmy Page’s White Summer on acid before the metal returns and a long 12 string chime echoes like a bell. The most upbeat section of the record finishes things off in grand style, allowing us all to return to our cloud homes to await more doomed dreaming.
With Song of Salvation, Dream Unending have proved that dream doom is officially here to stay and that it’s only a matter of time and scene bravery for everyone to play catch up. While everyone is still picking their pieces in this musical Monopoly, DeTore and Vella have already passed go and collected $200 twice while they wait for everyone else to join them in this divine chase to understand who and what we are through chimed and distorted guitars, fretless bass, bombastic drums and the holiest of death roars. Dream Unending will continue to beckon us not to a void, but a doorway that leads to music that feels as large and ponderous as being in the Library of Alexandria. It’s deep and vast, but only accessible through your guides. Worry not about where to turn in this life or even the next, these sonic apostles will guide you through the darkness. Though the world may no longer be filled with kings or queens, Dream Unending will most assuredly open your eyes and seal your dreams.
Song Of Salvation is available now via 20 Buck Spin (Stream/Order).