Monday, May 17, 2010

Dream Death - Journey into Mystery

Dream Death - Journey into Mystery
1987, New Renaissance Records

If you were searching for the actual roots of the entire doom/death genre, going farther and farther back, tracing whatever strange elements that we can reduce the genre to along the lines of both doom and death metal, trying to find the exact moment where these two lineages intersected, for a time, and gave birth to a new style of music that was equally inspired by both styles yet which wasn't directly evocative of either, I think that the line would hesitate for a second right around this album before climbing even further back into the progenitors of American doom: St. Vitus, The Obsessed, etc. It just depends on which subgenre you think was more influential in shaping the 'true' doom/death tradition: death or doom metal. Because this album came out in 1987, right at the same time that some of the more vicious strains of thrash and speed metal were metamorphosizing into what would later become death - meaning Mantas, Sacrifice, Death, Slayer and Possessed - it becomes a little unclear...who were Dream Death really influenced by? What were they trying to accomplish? Were they taking the Candlemass/Obsessed formula into new territories, and naturally borrowed from the nascent death metal scene, or was their sound completely original - itself lending influence to the death bands that came afterwards? It is difficult to tell now...but in any case, this album is original in that it does, for a brief half-hour or so, bleed out the sound of both doom and what would later become death: I hesitate only in calling it 'death metal' because of its traditional song structures, its 'rock' singing vocals, and the simplistic drumming. The guitar sound (oh so heavy) and the lyrics (Lovecraft, zombies, sorcery and gore - sound familiar?) point directly to death metal - as such, as I have been trying to say, it's like a snapshot of a genre frozen in time, exactly congruous with all the elements of the much-copied style would come together on 'Scream Bloody Gore'. So, these four Pennsylvania (someone should write a history of that state's influence on the national scene) musicians, working in a relatively isolated environment, as they must have been, although still hazily cognizant of what was going on in the world at large, arrived at a particular style more through trial and error than anything else - a style that seemed to reflect, in their microcosm, what was happening in the larger metal scene: a time of transition, when traditional music was giving way under the impetus of new sounds - a new emphasis on horror, violence, and the wholesale turning away from what had come before...a rebellion, in short.

'Journey into Mystery', as I hinted at above, is mainly important to me because of its guitar sound: one can truly trace the entire history of death metal through the evolution of guitar distortion, and backtracking, place a band in the development of this genre based only by listening to the way the six-strings sound...I can't think of many other types or categories of music where the way the instruments sound, their particular production, aura, or feel, determines so much in the ability of the musicians to communicate emotion. Interesting, isn't it? But in any case, this album features a monstrously heavy, bludgeoning, crushing, vitriolic guitar tone - one that seems to give the lie to the 'traditional' song structures it constructs (in a nihilistic fashion it tears down what it is constantly referencing) - which places this firmly in the camp of those bands who were searching for something new in the metal scene at the end of the '80s. On this album the hackneyed Sabbathisms of Iommi's children are warped and twisted into something new, blended together with pounding, snapping rhythms and decidely anti-doom tempos or tremelo riffing. Melodies that are seemingly inspired by the British black four's morose effusions are perverted, turned inside-out, drenched in acid, reconstructed or torn apart. Related, coincidentally, very close to what Necrophagia were doing with their guitars on their first album, and taking a large, healthy dose of influence from Candlemass, this sound only had to be taken a little further in order to make all the blasphemy and mutant otherworldliness of 'Scream Bloody Gore' or 'Severed Survival' possible...

As I was saying above, because this band blended traditional doom (derived, ultimately from Sabbath and Trouble) with stylistic hints of what would later become death metal, it wouldn't be that far off the mark to actually claim they were one of the first bands who can lay claim to beginning the entire doom/death subgenre...I know that splitting hairs at this level is meaningless, and that such categories do not really mean much when it comes to just enjoying the music, but I am trying to give credit where it's due...because my interest in metal has always been allied with a particular (some would say misguided) historical instinct, trying to archive or concretely record all these nefarious/obscure webs of influence and counter-influence in the progression of the various genres, I have found that my appreciation of music such as this can only be increased by an understanding of its derivation...this is a matter for my mental records, and once filed away, it usually does not interfere with the other ways in which I listen to the music...

But, in any case, this frighteningly rare album (I found it in a bargain bin for a dollar, and I can't believe my luck) is a necessary item for the completist, or those who are distinctly obsessed, as I am, with the history of the music they are involved in...this band later became Penance, the traditionally underrated doom stalwarts of the US scene (who still owe me a demo recording from three years ago), and Mike, the drummer on this, later appeared with Cathedral...but I don't care about what they did later, as I think it is inconsequential...if only because they fell back into conservatively repeating the music of bands that had come before them. For a time, with this album, Dream Death was poised on the very edge of a transition state, where old paradigms were fading away and being replaced with new sounds, new ideas, new energy...if they could have kept going forward, who knows what would have happened?