DREAM UNENDING – Song of Salvation (2022)REVIEW

Arhat, or singularity. — From the faraway planes of entheogenic revelation our protagonist drifts purposefully beyond the glow of formative self-actualization, or, a self-guided spiritual recontextualization of the ‘self’ per a changeling world. Yet none of this stills the ever-whirring generators of anxietous, existential dread that’d inspired this alternate state of mind. A response secured and a platform of rest established on fresh foundation, the mind remains unsettled as a wide-angled clarity returns and the view yet disappoints. The adrenaline of “the fear” subsides its survivalist motivation, blissful body high gives way to deep physical ache, and the idealism sparked at the peak of the mountain now meets the practical reality of the still-lustrous geologic detritus at its base. The protagonist has changed, undoubtedly yet the slumped over, wheel-resigned glowering of their surroundings will likely not. The choice to be made here is a difficult one: To become the ideal, and live within a secreted bliss away from the noise, or to become the “street preacher” and engage in the daily grind of psychic combat with little hope of stilling the hateful noise of society. Within the willful, pleasantly atmospheric progressive death/doom metal throes of Dream Unending‘s uninterrupted flood of inspiration the shadows are yet the shapers of scenery in this regard, where a deep sense of responsibility to others occludes the singular ascension of the self beyond its first reincarnation. The duo’s second album in two years, ‘Song of Salvation‘, very much represents the late seventies heavy psychedelic/prog-rock comedown in this regard, a record which simultaneously dwells upon what comes next beyond the tail-end of spiritual awakening while presenting said futurity in a more glorious, far less introverted, and glossiest-yet point of refinement.

What relief, if any, was there to be found beyond the heady spiritual awakening and moldering catharses of ‘Tide Turns Eternal‘? Popular punk/hardcore built and metal positioned musicians Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold) and Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms, Solemn Lament) had nearly minted this follow-up to what I’d considered the #10 Best Album of 2021 before it’d actually released, it’d more-or-less be what it is today regardless of what’d been. Of course they’d gotten plenty of feedback prior to release, being communicative individuals in general, yet there is something entirely bold and void of self-consciousness which seeps from the choice to soldier away and finish a second record while the bubble of public forum had yet to be burst. The gist of their intent going forth herein seems to be creating the -next- Dream Unending record rather than the same one, and as a result ‘Song of Salvation‘ retains the uninterrupted thread of personae in direct continuation of their previous work but with a complete and thorough host of refinements alongside some reprisal of guest spots to deepen the lore, and a general reconsideration of the presentation.

The shimmering, psychedelic reverb-dunked and joyous clashing of distorted and/or clean guitar tones are a distant blur in mind, their resonance now gives way to a grand sense of dignified space, wide open and spilling the ear into the distance, receding or echoing backwards during the fall into more intimate sections of this recording. There is a woolen, earth-spun timbre to ‘the rendering of ‘Song of Salvation‘ which allows for the long-rectangular chamber of sound to include (or emulate) the warm acoustics of a piano, a bit of trumpet, and most importantly a far more natural drum presence this time around. This smartly leaves the monstrous vocals, high-sparking keyboard/synth swells and a celestial army of guitars to shape the upper register of space with their collective cloud of mystic heat, the “soul” of the recording in levitating ponder. It is a beautiful feat of atmospheric doom metal sound design which only recedes from its pointed intimacy when Vella‘s lead guitar runs reach for a sort of David Gilmour-esque voice outside the fray. Though this was an aspect that’d gilded ‘Tide Turns Eternal‘ the lead guitars now act even more as a key directorial stroke likely edged along by some guitar tutelage from Kevin Hufnagel, listening to a fair deal of Dire Straits‘ earlier records, and quite a lot of time spent extracting personal signature from sensorial taste in various shades of sentimental, introspective rock music. Between the astral disembodiment of the production values and this searching sense of second wave/late seventies cocaine rockin’ ease we find fewer reasons to reach for references to British doom metal on this second album, yet we’ll still have to completely go there to start.

The second, wisened reincarnation. — the ~14 minute grandeur of opener/title track “Song of Salvation” reminds us that this whole gig is still at least conceptually one part Disembowelment and one part (post-2012) The Ruins of Beverast in tonic spiritus thanks to their deeply atmospheric, lead-striking sections of forlorn approach which still very much bandy up a primary representation of the dreary early-to-mid 90’s melodrama of Anathema in mind. There should be a tinge of ‘Gothic‘-era Paradise Lost clinging to the tonsils for a moment ’til a few hits off the Warning bubbler call for relief away from dread but we are experiencing an enormous, modern atmospheric doom metal record nonetheless. From the first listen it was clear that the duo had made the choice to lean into clarity of vision without losing the profound tension of tragedian death/doom metal. The unearthly atmospheric sound the ‘Tide Turns Eternal‘ fan craves is here on this opener, thanks to the ghostly presence of DeTore‘s slightly less reverb washed drums and a wall of deep growls, yet this isn’t necessarily the dynamic of the full listen revealed. In fact it’d begin to feel like Vella was already somewhat ready to push beyond that death/doom metal sound before this album was complete, likely inspired by the leaps made by the artists that’d originally stoked up interest in the sub-genre. Perhaps the most interesting turn of events is that we eventually find the dramatic patter of traditional heavy metal sparking up to finish the thought at the end of the song, a key touch which helps to round the greater shape of a few songs on ‘Song of Salvation‘ and, eventually, end on an equally high note.

If they’d gone on to diligently recreate the narrative verve of the previous album beyond this point I’d have been stoked enough, truly. The spirit of this project is one of adventure away from comfort, though, and the headspace for ‘Song of Salvation‘ seems to have been built in a flurry of breakthrough thoughts, a continuation and expansion of the calmest, steadiest (yet indirectly) progressive rock influenced wilderness that’d been integral yet decidedly less featured on the previous record. The path forward isn’t so obvious and a great chasm of searching, yearning soul soon stretches forth in the fallout of the opener, our view widened and a heated atmosphere hissing in open channel. We soon find an alluring trumpet noire from Leila Abdul-Rauf in summon of the forlorn seraphic hum of Phil Swanson (Vestal Claret, Briton Rites) as they introduce “Secret Grief”, a song which threatens to breach built-up immerse with the combination of standout guest spots it presents in solemn, bruised sentiment. The statement of the piece comes together as a particularly emotional fold within the irregular running order on the full listen, an immediate ripple wherein Dream Unending make the argument that this thing they’re doing is a shade apart, something decidedly different in tone from what else extreme doom metal/atmospheric metal has otherwise presented in 2022. Of course for the death metal fan on the edge of their seat, there is some appreciable lumbering up of rhythmic muscle in tow as they build a statement which feels sublimely related to the yearning stretches of the previous album but on a different tangent. Before the first section of the album has finished preparing its its deepest exhale it’d make sense to suggest that the effect of this record is comparatively less demanding, that the level of detail and ease upon repetition in compositional strokes makes for a record which bears repeating, familiarity with its fineries leading to peak gratification.

The ache that surrounds is not sadness, but the slow emergence of agency within. — Out of the first ~19-or- so minute delve we’re set within what I’d consider the deep oceanic trench of ‘Song of Salvation‘ which develops without gravitas in hand, a lighter touch on trembling arpeggiation outer-spaced synth pulses and what I’d consider deeper contributions to Vella‘s own remarkably melodic and illustrative sense of, well, shred. There is a signature which comes even more clearly into view as we build towards the final third of the album which makes much of the work on ‘Tide Turns Eternal‘ sound formative, uncertain of what heights it’d been scaling. The larger point to make here is that yes, atmospheric doom metal might naturally set the mind upon pondering its own miseries but elbow deep into this LP sorrow, destitution, frustration, ambivalence aren’t the “read” at all. I’d made this point about the first album, too, but doom metal is the vehicle for serious emotional engagement yet the music here is prone to pondering thoughts which are far from nihil but perhaps built from searching beyond solitude. When read on the band’s own terms the effect of the full listen challenges the cathartic sorrow-bound nodes of melodic death/doom with an affecting, inspirational alternative.

As we rise from the introspective depths, boiling apart the surface tension of the final arc within the greater inhale of ‘Song of Salvation‘ perhaps my favorite piece on the album, “Unrequited”, presents an intense marriage of traditional doom metal riff flexion, progressive death metal wiles, and the uber-atmospheric death/doom centered surrealism which’d first attracted me to the project. The opening to the song reads supremely dramatic, artfully striking on through a host of ideas rather than resting on them. McKenna Rae (Sōlborn) reprises her role here on what we’ll have to holistically consider a similar narrative conclusion as we’d found on ‘Tide Turns Eternal‘, this time emphasizing a key line in the lyrics “let my song bring gravity, to my memory” a very lucid peak within this section of the song which’d stuck in mind when recollecting my thoughts after various listens. “Unrequited” otherwise has a bit of a Solstice-esque jog to it, the warbling effects-soaked goth-metallic wailing of (again) ‘Gothic‘-era Paradise Lost striking back into the brilliant lead at the apex of the song as the motif from the title track trickles back into view at the dramatic climax of the album. Otherwise the chapter closing “Ecstatic Reign” again features voice work from thee distinguished Richard Poe narrating the conclusive statement of this second record, the infinite search and the riffs at the peaking end of the album serve an incredible spire rather than a fading moment.

My first reaction to the full listen hasn’t budged over the course of perhaps a hundred or more listens. As a follow-up to a brilliant record there isn’t as much of what I’d obviously like here, the riffin’ ass death/doom clobber, but somehow I like this album even more than I do ‘Tide Turns Eternal‘ for the sake of the conviction and precision in which they’ve presented their second go at it. Not only have Dream Unending convinced me that this cracked-open eureka pours from a very real place of spiritual kismet but they’ve done so by way of a freshly decisive and wisened stroke applied to material lending itself to an immersed, synesthesia-esque experience which I’ve found hardly anywhere else all year long, metal or otherwise. Beyond that point there are references, influences and such that’ve obviously helped spike up the best moments on the full listen yet there is next to nothing else like ‘Song of Salvation‘, leaving me wonting for this realm to be explored further and having only this particular fountain to dunk my head into. For the existing fan of course tweak your expectations accordingly, there is no less atmospheric death/doom metal impact here but perhaps a less even distribution of the action for the sake of various other sorts of heavy rock coloration and texture beyond ‘beauty and the beast’ death metal modes. I’d suspect prog-death types will get it as much as death-doom romanticists this time around. A highest possible recommendation is warranted.

Highest recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:Song of Salvation
LABEL(S):20 Buck Spin
RELEASE DATE:November 11th, 2022

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