Many, many extreme metal bands claim to be `cult’, or even `kult’ but so few ever live up to that description. Dream Death however, have no such qualms. This is a true, legendary, underground cult band from Pittsburgh who have been following their own (sort of) path since day one. Formed in the mid-eighties; their 1987 debut album `Journey Into Mystery’ was a hidden gem of dark, sludgy grimness. As a spotty teen, I only knew them as a band that got listed on some of my favourite underground bands’ sleeve notes, so when I stumbled upon the cover of `Journey Into Mystery’ in my local record shop, I was really excited. However, it was not to be – the shop seemed to have the sleeve but not that actual vinyl! Years later, I found it on CD and have been enjoying its doom-laden nastiness ever since.
In their long history, this is only the third studio album – I can only assume that they encountered the same frustrations as many underground bands, as they put themselves on a semi-permanent hiatus after the release of their debut, and for a while became the doom band Penance. Fast-forward to 2016, and their third studio album is a sold, heavy slab of nastiness, with many nods to their debut, but with an eye towards gradually expanding their sound.
For the uninitiated, Dream Death tread a path which weaves its way between thrash, death and doom metals respectively. It is almost impossible to describe their sound without mentioning the classic innovators Celtic Frost (well maybe it is just lazy journalism on my part!). The frosties are clearly their biggest influence, and they have that apocalyptic, atonal dirge-like riffing absolutely down to a tee. Some bands can really do it, and some can’t – these guys definitely can. There are other elements which the band make uniquely their own; some massively epic, totally crushing doom segments, with a hint of bluesy Black Sabbath/Pentagram groove thrown in, and one thing I notice in particular is the addition of creepy atmospherics and more advanced song writing dynamics than their debut, something that has been noted since their reformation a few years ago.
Vocalist and guitarist Brian Lawrence has a rather different approach to the vocals than most bands who attempt sludgy, doom-infested metal; instead of trying to copy Tom G Warrior or go for a death grunt, Lawrence’s vocal style is more akin to tradition 80’s thrash metal in that it is shouted in a raw yet melodramatic way – think early Slayer and other Bay Area thrash bands. He manages to convey an awful lot of feeling through his ragged and abused vocal chords, and at times reminds me a little of King Fowley from Deceased, with his penchant for high drama (mostly zombie related!). I know this can turn some people off, but for me it adds extra atmosphere to the darkness.
This is a very good, dark and pounding offering from the underground cult band, and it is really great to see them in action once again. If you like it dark, heavy, grim and a little different from the norm, you can’t really go too wrong with this. It’s not the most tuneful, or the fastest/slowest, but it is a great collection of nasty, sludgy, crushing songs from the Pittsburgh pulverisers.
(7.5/10 Jon Butlin)