Dreaming Dead – Midnightmares (Self-released, 20 April 2012)
So it’s been about three weeks since Midnightmares, the new Dreaming Dead album was made available. As you may recall, I told you they were giving it away for free on the day it was released. Did you see that post, and did you take advantage of that offer? If you did, feel free to share your opinion in the comments below — I’d love to hear from you. If you missed it, though, I’m sorry — but you should totally consider taking advantage of subscribing to the Valley News email updates or RSS feed (see the relevant links somewhere on this page), or heading over to Facebook and “liking” the Valley of Steel page, because I’m always sharing information about freebies like that when I hear about them, and maybe next time you can be better informed!
In any case, if you haven’t had a chance to check out this lovely slice of progressive death-thrash yet, don’t worry — it might not be available to download for free any more, but you can still catch a stream of the album at the band’s website, and they’re also selling it in download, CD, and LP formats!
The band is often described as a blend of progressive, death metal, and thrash, which is pretty spot-on; however, this album is also filled with plenty of dark and introspective doom moments — usually in the instrumental tracks. For example, the slow and ponderous opener “Wake” brings to my mind the style of riffs that lead into Ever Circling Wolves‘ death-doom classic The Silence from Your Room. Make no mistake, though — this album is pretty thrashy above all else. Just before the first track ends, drummer Michael Caffell dives into a kick-drum roll, and then the band are off at full gallop.
This leads us immediately into the first proper song, “Overlord,” which also happens to be one of the highlights of the album. There is a certain catchiness here, and a strange feeling of familiarity — so much, in fact, that my first reaction was to wonder whether this was a reinterpretation of the Infernäl Mäjesty song of the same name, although a closer listen to the lyrics shows that this idea was unfounded. Nevertheless, the comparison is still there: Dreaming Dead definitely capture the vibe of that period quite well, when thrash and death metal were just beginning to diverge, and both subgenres were developing more progressive tendencies.
One of the bands leading the charge in the move toward progressiveness, back when the 80s were turning into the 90s, was one of those who were at the forefront of death metal’s inception, Death. Dreaming Dead can be aptly compared with the later work of that band, and guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Schall can be said to approximate the gruff delivery of early death metal frontmen like Chuck Schuldiner, or perhaps the harsher growls of some thrash vocalists, such as Chris Bailey of the aforementioned Infernäl Mäjesty. For added effect, from time to time (often at the end of a lyrical phrase or for extra emphasis in certain places), her voice is doubled by the ultra-low growl of one of her bandmates (Caffell and bassist Juan Ramirez are both credited with backing vocals, so I’m not sure which). This creates an extra layer of intensity and heaviness when needed, a cool effect of dynamic contrast that could easily be overdone if employed too frequently, but the band wisely avoid falling into this trap. The second half of the song “Exile” actually hands off the lead to one of the male vocalists, for yet another layer of contrast, then doubling that with Schall’s voice, instead of the other way around.
That song also concludes with a pretty cool guitar solo — one of many to be found throughout this record — and then falls back into some doom-deathy riffing, which fades away to be replaced by the ethereal introduction to “In Memoriam.” Led by the bass, which is soon compounded by a few complementary guitar parts, this track turns out to be one of the album’s more progressive (and also the longest). Essentially an entracte, this collection of riffs, melodies, and coutermelodies is a nice opportunity for each of the three instrumentalists to show off their respective abilities, while leading from side “A” to side “B” (I haven’t actually seen the official track listing for the vinyl version of the album, but here, between tracks five and six, seems like the most logical place to make this jump).
The song “Into the Depths,” with its repeated mention of “a nightmare within a dream” takes us in an even darker direction than where we already were; between this and the grimly-titled “Corpse Mountain,” which leaves us with the pleasant image of “stacking corpses a mile high,” some of the material here definitely seems to be leaning more firmly toward the death metal side of things. But in the end, these give way to some angelic ambiance, ushering in the closing track “Departure” — primarily built on some quiet, clean guitar parts coupled with jazzy snare-and-high-hat patterns and an elastic bassline. All of this gets briefly eclipsed by a huge wall of doomy distortion, only to reemerge from the depths, now topped with a solo guitar lead whose tone could have been lifted straight from Pantera‘s version of “Planet Caravan.”
And just like in that Far Beyond Driven closing track, everything fades into the distance; the listener is left straining to hear the notes as they gradually disappear, and reflecting upon the journey just completed. There were moments of heaviness, speed, and brutality; of darkness and sorrow; of anger and pain. And more often than not, as all of these lingering impressions continue to rattle inside my brain, I find myself reaching for the PLAY button once more…
Midnightmares is currently streaming via a Flash player on the Dreaming Dead website. You can purchase the MP3s from Amazon, but if you prefer a physical copy, you can grab the CD or LP (as well as various t-shirts) from the band’s webstore.