Review Summary: A unique nexus where the dark Overlords of Death, Doom, and Thrash wage eternal war upon one another.
Dream Death slays, but in a very simple way. Far from a diss, these guys were born with a snarl on their lips and banded together to form DD and, later, Penance. But the latter band, as its name sort of implies, is truly a veteran's act; their work on 1987's Journey Into Mystery, on the other hand, basically amounts to an effort to break apart trash to its most sinisterest, primitive elements. Heckity heck yeah.
The beginning chords fire the warning flare. Dream Death doesn't rely on palm muted riffs and the classic death vibrato as much as, say, Slaughter. Their style of thrashing instead takes speed metal riffs effed up on qualudes and slices them periodically with doom riffing. Ted Williams, like all bonafide Eighties thrash bassists, finds himself completely obscured by the low end mastering and primordial mixing, despite his tough, forceful sound. This fact couldn't have helped when the band tried to convince him from leaving, thus breaking up the group (most of whom would form Penance). But that's when your quintessential lo-fi charm factor kicks in. The production of the guitars, more low end but tinnier than most thrash records, completely envelops the bass to create a dark, lumbering rumble. Just check out the swirling finale to "Back from the Dead" if you think this some Paradise Lost rip-off or something. Which is, now that we're on the subject, exactly what this record isn't. European death/doom set out to craft tragedy and gothic whatever. Dream Death wallows too much in straight-up American brutality to ever fall for that. That's really how Dream Death curb=stomps their listeners: by nailing thrash riffs as hard as a death metal band and slowing them down until they coalesce into a crunching chugfest.
These guys play so hard that it's easy to miss how effective this recipe is. Their technique never reaches the abyszenith of polished technicality while remaining wild and agile. Witness the punk sloppiness of the guitar squeals at the end of "Bitterness and Hatred" or, on the very same track, the punk precision of the br00tal breakdowns! Brian Lawrence and Terry Weston slice away in a manner too juvenile for the their work with Penance (unfortunately, the guitar solos on tracks like "Elder Race" and "Bitterness and Hatred" are not exactly anything to write home about).
The band covers a lot of territory on eight plodding tracks. They always, however, keep it together and never sacrifice cohesion. Their looser moments, especially in the rhythm section, can veer into Exhorder's sloppiness-turned-into-brutal groove thing without getting too out of hand. Although we hear drummer Mike Small really begin to grasp the fundamentals of thrash bass-pounding, the band can still rock/and/roll, even if it's in a circular, atonal sort of way. "In Divine Agony", a trad. doom tune from an alternate universe where demonologists play Slayer and hardcore, rollicks about with swinging riffs and early death metal flourishes. The rhythm section just brings the house down when they back up Terry Weston in "Sealed in Blood" (the best solo on the record) with a demented punk-based swing. Simply brutal, brother.
Thrash, doom, and early death metal enthusiasts may find the band to be just a bunch of snotty-nosed amateurs. And they wouldn't exactly be far off the mark. Brian Lawrence's vox just sneer away, like the kid in junior high school who got bigger before anyone else. They're really part of the same horror-punk tradition of songwriting started by The Cramps that would later be upheld by Death Breath and Black Breath. The subject material doesn't stray far from interrupting your own funeral, visa-vie undead "unlife". But the actual vocal line get pretty iffy/theatrical at times, if also completely demented. Yo: There's really something about the lack of technique or form in thrash vocals that attracts the most unhinged of frontmen. The chorus to "Black Edifice" is almost death-doom Broadway 'cause Brian following the riffs with his out-of-tune taunts, like something Barbra Streisand could mull up in her more bitter trax. After all, Dream Death's final, eponymous song finds the band playing on to the mantra "I never thought that I could be so damn evil" in the blistering dark sunset of '80s underground metal.