Monday, August 26, 2013

Review of Dream Death's Somnium Excessum

Despite only releasing one album in their heyday, 1987’s Journey Into Mystery, Pittsburgh’s Dream Death came to be a noteworthy influence in the underground metal community thanks to their thrashy doom blend of Celtic Frost worship. Now that the outfit has been bitten by the reunion bug and released their long-awaited sophomore effort, it is interesting to see how close they’ve kept to the original vision after over twenty-five years.

With Somnium Excessum translating roughly to “Dream Death,” it’s a relief that the album has a lot of the tropes that made their debut so distinct. The riffs are still packed with filth, the tempos and structures are all over the place, and guitarist/vocalist Brian Lawrence’s half spoken, half growled delivery has not withered with time. The band does benefit from some modern production, but it’s done more to bring out Richard Freund’s bass than to provide the sound with any real polish.

But even with those elements secured, there are some modifications that have taken place. This album actually manages to be more dynamic than its 80s counterpart as “Them” and “Bludgeon” bring in quieter sections to build a haunting atmosphere. In addition, the songwriting may be even more complex than before as there aren’t any songs that’ll stay on the same segment for long. The opening “Feast” may be the easiest track to get a feel for and “Dystopian Distress Signal” is bookended by a few catchy riffs but it doesn’t spend as much time on them as I’d like.

In a smart move, the band decided to only put six songs on this effort, allowing more care to be put into each track and keeping the tempo changes from getting too exhausting. It’s a little tricky to pick the best track since each one finds a way to stand out but “You’re Gonna Die Up There” is arguably the most distinct, coming the closest to fully exploiting their thrash side. Props must also be given to the closing “From Inside The Walls” as it manages to keep an unsettling tone through its nearly twelve minute duration.

Somnium Excessum may be one of 2013’s harder albums to get a feel for but it makes for a satisfying Dream Death reunion. There’s not a song on here as truly spell binding as “Sealed In Blood” but it may arguably be more consistent as the songs on here tend to feel unified. You should still go for their classic first but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try them both out at the same time.

Current Highlights:
“You’re Gonna Die Up There”
“From Inside The Walls”

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