Written by Kep
Dream Unending – Song of Salvation
> Death/doom metal
> Releasing November 11
> 20 Buck Spin
You’d have to have been living under a rock, at least in terms of the metal scene, to have missed the widespread praise that was heaped upon Dream Unending and their debut Tide Turns Eternal in November of last year. True to their name, the band took listeners into a melancholy dreamworld, liquid and hazy and full of a sadness so deep you could drown in it. Slow and deliberate but never stagnant or plodding, always with an elegance that belied the hideousness of their grisly death metal influences, it spoke profoundly to a great many people. Strangely enough, I wasn’t one of them; I thought it was exquisite in its delivery but I never made the personal connection, though not for lack of trying. And so I hoped that their sophomore effort would touch me the way the first didn’t.
So is Song of Salvation everything I wished it would be? The short answer is yes. The long answer? Now that’s more complicated. But read on, friends, because I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think it actually matters whether or not I connect with this album personally: it’s quite clearly a stunning and ascendant piece of living art regardless.
Song of Salvation is about as ambitious an effort as one can imagine. Core members Justin DeTore (also of Innumerable Forms and Sumerlands, among others) and Derrick Vella (of Tomb Mold and Outer Heaven) have created a grandiose and cohesive masterpiece that uses a bevy of storytelling and scene-painting elements to craft what is a truly singular work. From that lovely cover art by Benjamin A. Vierling to the numerous featured guest artists who are each assigned a character name, all work together in eminently cinematic fashion. Listening is like peering through a slowly rotating kaleidoscope, with colors and landscapes and faces fading in and out, beautiful and mysterious. There are piano and synth, call-and-response death growls, clean and spoken word vocals, and more guitar tones than you can shake a stick at. It’s an album that’s so enormous in its vision that it could have easily been a mess, and yet it’s far better than its much-adored, more straightforward predecessor.
Structurally, Song of Salvation stands out for its uncommon pacing: two bookending death/doom monoliths, the title track and “Ecstatic Reign”, tower above a three-track center of solemnity and mostly calm reflection. Those three tracks at the core of the record say much about the general thrust of Dream Unending’s vision. “Secret Grief” is pensive, featuring blurry laments from former Sumerlands vocalist Phil Swanson and oozing melancholy from guest Leila Abdul-Rauf’s meandering trumpet before DeTore’s growls burst out of the repose, shaking the earth. Brief centerpiece “Murmur of Voices” is warm and welcoming, guitars glowing gold and shimmering while soft whispers babble like a haunting brook. From that calm emerges “Unrequited”, gorgeous and full of halcyon serenity; it’s a moment reminiscent of Opeth’s most reflective and enveloping moments, complete with multiple exquisite solos from Vella’s guitar. I can’t speak highly enough of these three tracks: between them they take less time than either of album’s two mammoth bookends, but their respective impacts in the runtime are enormous, and they’re the heart of a record that takes pride in breaking down the stylistic walls of metal.
The bookends themselves, though, are outstanding. Equal parts gorgeous and crushing, they drape rays of yellow and gold and orange over a miles-wide soundscape as bleak as it is uplifting. You’ll find touches of influence from across the spectrum, from ghostly gothic cleans to magnificent doomy string-bending riffs to screaming solos that ooze classic heavy metal, but the core of the sound is in a brand of stately death/doom that’s as resplendent as it is somber. There are colossal rumbling moments heavy enough to make boulders crumble, and passages where eerie clean tones ring above a morass of distortion a la diSEMBOWELMENT, but somehow Dream Unending never loses their uncanny ability to feel downright gorgeous. The title track’s first few minutes are enough to convince you of this album’s exquisite composition: a calm passage of guitar with backing synth begins things, meditative yet with an undercurrent of movement, and as it continues it’s eventually warmed by bass and decorated with a second guitar line. Then, just after :50, an utterly sublime riff is introduced, stretching and pulling, moving ever forward in stately beauty. It’s harmonized on its second iteration, its third arrives with the full breadth of the band as distortion and the drums enter, and finally on its fourth cycle DeTore’s gargantuan growl brings the entire spectrum of sounds together in glorious fashion. I’m not sure I can imagine a more perfect opening, and that’s merely a taste of the wonders to follow. There are moments where it feels like iridescent stars are cascading from a night sky, and others where you’d swear the earth beneath is splitting open.
Also worth mentioning is the record’s impeccable production, courtesy of recording tech Sean Pearson and the considerable recording, mixing, and mastering talents of the always-busy Arthur Rizk (who’s also a member of Eternal Champion and Sumerlands in addition to his production work). This is perhaps the cleanest and most well-balanced death/doom album I’ve ever heard, and the master is particularly…masterful. There’s clarity and nuance in every element, from the softest brush of the cymbals to the loudest wailing guitar solo to the deep resonant bass.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The funny thing about my experience with Song of Salvation is that, much like with Tide Turns Eternal, I don’t feel like I personally connect on a heart and soul level with it. But what’s special about this effort is that it’s so excellent, such a triumph on every level, that it’s floored me despite that. Lush, cinematic, and filled with as many flecks of warm light as menacing shadows, this is an album that deserves to be in AOTY contention across all parts of the metal community. Do not under any circumstances miss it.