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Shades of Night Conferring With The Stormblast of December Souls: Dream Unending/Worm — Starpath

Two of the biggest names on the 20 Buck Spin roster join forces and take us through the heavenly and hellish portions of the cosmos.

worm and dream unending, starpath, black metal, death metal, doom metal
Cover Artwork by Mark Riddick

Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):

At this very moment in time, it seems that we are going through quite a renaissance in extreme music. Records are getting released by many different bands across many different genres that I firmly believe will be held as classics in the decades to come. Most notably, it seems like one of the biggest constants is the label that is 20 Buck Spin. In just over a decade, Dave Adelson and his little label have been at the forefront of the modern extreme music renaissance. Bands from across the spectrum have been delighted to work with him, and it has worked on both commercial and critical fronts. Within the last couple of years, two of the biggest success stories are both firmly rooted in the fertile grounds of extreme doom and those two bands are Dream Unending and Worm.

To close out 2023, 20BS have given us the ultimate firework show in the form of Starpath, the new split between these doomed heavyweights. In the perfect melding of a light and shade situation the two bands, that curiously enough share American and Canadian members, have decided to join into an unholy alliance to create a record that is as uplifting as it is hellish. And did they succeed? I would definitely be inclined to tell you that in every minuscule detail, they have achieved their goal.

Side A of Starpath begins with Dream Unending and their songs So Many Chances and If Not Now When. The former opens with clean guitar strums from Derrick Vella as Justin DeTore unleashes a primal roar to wake you from the dreamy malaise that Song of Salvation (2022) left you in. This is by far one of the heaviest songs in the Dream Unending catalog to date, recalling images from their debut, Tide Turns Eternal (2021), as well as the psychedelic wanderings of Esoteric circa The Pernicious Enigma. About a minute and a half in, a key change takes place driven heavily by Vella’s bass guitar before the lush sounds of the twelve string intertwine with DeTore’s majestic yet empowered bellowing. It’s enough to shake the very pillars of the heavens and most certainly will shake your gray matter with a good enough set of headphones. Then in true Dream Unending form, we dare to get experimental around minute three. Maracas enter with clean guitars that sound like a three way merging of Planet Caravan, Daniel Lanois’ ambient guitar work for Red Dead Redemption 2, as well as the D’Angelo number Unshaken from the aforementioned game.

Vella and DeTore chart a course for Planet Chill on the softest Oort Cloud imaginable before a solo worms (pun intended) into the sound space. Equal parts Phish and Terrapin Station Grateful Dead as it is God’s Own Medicine, the goth touches are ever so slight but not enough to don black eyeliner. Pretty soon, DeTore returns and the beast lurches forth into more funeral doom textures. As we near the close, rhythm section and guitar solo hold onto you with an impassioned embrace as Phil Swanson returns to flex his incredibly captivating vocal chops for what almost seems like a sequel to Secret Grief from the previous LP. Soon after Swanson finishes, Vella returns with a Django Pass/Joe Reinhardt nylon string solo that fuses with the electric 12 string and the bass guitar. At this point, calling Dream Unending a funeral or death doom band would seem redundant. On just this opening track, they’ve now fully realized their dream doom vision and it only gets better.

If Not Now When begins on the denser end of the spectrum while still feeling melodious and triumphant. Even DeTore’s growls make you want to raise your fist to a cloudy sky and hope you get beamed up, Scotty style. Psychedelic musings from the strings emerge from the mist, fog is too dense a description for this, and offer light through the heavier sections and eventually disappear as the heaviness takes a greater center stage before more clean electric guitars begin to weave musical tapestries.

If Vella and DFJ had decided to keep this one for the previous record, it would’ve fit perfectly alongside Murmur of Voices and Unrequited. Soloing takes us further into a landscape of blue, pink, orange, and purple that color your mind with sunset and sunrise in a battle for the horizon. Stop and start melodies weave together before this track unveils it’s coolest secret at the eight and a half minute mark: a straight up jazz fusion section that could be culled from a Di Meola or Eric Johnson vault cut. It fades out on Wurlitzer courtesy of Derrick’s father David as side A ends with more cloud drifting from the DU boys. But just when you thought all was lush and serene, we now go into the shadow realm of side B.

Phantom Slaughter, Wroth Septentrion, Necreon and L Dusk open Starpath’s B side with drums, gothic synth and guitar lines from a cosmic crypt that shut sometime around 1998 before being opened by some ghastly incantation. Ravenblood is the perfectly logical opening for their side of the project after Shadowside Kingdom closed out last year’s blueNOTHING (2022) in equally symphonic black metal fashion. Like a firebrand mix of Midnight Syndicate, Dimmu Borgir circa Enthrone Darkness Triumphant and Goatlord, the group create a rip ride of gnarly yet delicious hell.

A gothic choir at 2:15 sets the tone even more before the keys keep a tight check on the guitars and bass. Soon, a spaced out guitar solo is followed by a bass section that almost sounds like the bass on King Crimson’s 1981 masterpiece Discipline while Phantom shrieks from atop his castle parapets. Another barrel chested scream feels as if the band are summoning lightning from above to torture their foes and silence all doubters. This is honestly one of the most psychedelic as well as bombastic songs Worm have conjured in some time and it feels very refreshing to hear Phantom and his disciples stretch those gauntleted appendages to get their end of the proceedings rolling.

Track two entitled Midwinter Tears begins with the aquatic Disembowelment esque guitars and double bass before turning into more gothic territory. The death metal and black metal clash brilliantly under the doom laden heft on display. Clean guitars that could cut you in half snake through the corridors of your mind as Phantom whispers hexes and curses before Wroth unleashes another Malmsteen meets Lindgren styled solo followed by massive chords and thunderstorm drumming.

Katatonia comes to mind but filtered through Setherial and Will Ackerman of Windham Hill fame before we lurch back into parts that also recall Foreverglade (2021) while piano and female vocals add a deeply unsettling Cradle of Filth flavor to the cut. After more fog musings from Phantom, the track launches deeper into the black hole of galaxy shattering blackened doom that will become the groups trademark from here on out. A solo enters once again that puts Wroth Septentrion’s fiery fingers, which recall a more extreme Akira Takasaki, on full exhibition for us to listen with jaws agape. I have loved that since his addition to Worm, he and Phantom are not afraid to throw classic Shrapnel Records styled solos into the cauldron of necromantic black doom. Squalls and squeals end the track in a dizzying yet satisfying haze.

To close Starpath on a truly haunting note, Worm end this affair with the aptly titled Sea of Sorrow. Organ swells with crashing ocean waves and truly Bill and Ted “Excellent!” worthy guitar solo before giving way to the castle wall tight rhythm section. Much to our surprise, acoustic guitar creeps in to add some ever so slight warmth to an already interstellar sounding number before disappearing as quickly as it appeared. On this track, Worm move headway into more Sadness, the cult Swiss gothic doom band, and Katatonia circa For Funerals to Come type of vibes with dashes of more Austrian and Norwegian black metal to robe the listener in pure mystery and darkness. At minute 5, the Katatonia-isms come on strong with a healthy gothic distortion from the guitars and a more rock styled rhythm from the drums that leads to shimmering crystalline guitar lines that will no doubt enchant as the Starpath is shut by Phantom and the others, never to be opened again.

On the split of the year, Dream Unending and Worm came together to take us all on a journey through distant galaxies and solar systems of dark beauty and haunting transcendence. While many comparisons can be drawn to as many influences as possible, each group have found even greater foundations to build on their respective and unique sounds. If the future of extreme doom was ever in doubt, there should be none left after Starpath finishes its runtime and leaves you enlightened from Dream Unending and grim and ghoulish from Worm. All players involved brought us the very best of themselves to celebrate their decorated sounds and in the process, create a split that adds to this Sistine Chapel of soon to be timeless recordings from inside and outside of the 20 Buck Spin roster. If this is your idea of the extreme Stairway to Heaven, you have ventured to the perfect second star on the right that will lead you straight on till mourning.

Stream Starpath in full below in anticipation of the physical release on November 24th.


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