Consider, if you will, these two words: “Tomb Mold.” It’s an ugly phrase in every sense of the word. For one thing, he doesn’t exactly stumble on the tongue. If you try to say it out loud, the end of one word merges into the beginning of another, to the point where you feel like you’re saying “tumult” with a weird accent. And then there’s the meaning of the phrase, the deeply unpleasant lingering reminder that we’re all just dying flesh — that even if our loved ones build a little monument to us after we’re gone, the earth will eventually consume that monument. I don’t even know if Tomb Mold is a good or bad band name, but it certainly helps. Toronto band Tomb Mold play old-school death metal with a sense of creepy ugliness. Their sounds are all covered in muck, mud and echo, as if calling to us from a primordial abyss, reminding us that the abyss will get us soon enough.
Now, for comparison, consider these two words: “Dream Unending.” Much nicer! The sentence flows. It could be a line from a prayer. It could be ad copy for a terrifying new tech startup that will affect our lives in ways we’re not yet ready to contemplate. An Endless Dream could be death itself, but if so, it’s a much rosier vision of oblivion than the phrase “Tomb Mold.” “Dream Unending” isn’t about what happens to the spoiled meat of our bodies. It’s about our consciousness, about the whole mystery of what our brain does when the lights go out. Depending on how you’ve dealt with your own subconscious weirdness, an endless dream doesn’t sound so bad. Even if you’re stuck naked in a fourth-grade hallway for all eternity, it still sounds better than Tomb Mold.
If the phrases “Tomb Mold” and “Dream Unending” suggest wildly different ways of conceptualizing death, so do the groups Tomb Mold and Dream Unending, even though the same person initiated both projects. Last year, stuck at home in Toronto during the pandemic and unable to see his American wife due to border closures, Tomb Mold guitarist Derrick Vella came up with the idea to do something big, mystical and spiritual, something that would bear very little resemblance to Tomb Mouler. He had long discussed the possibility of starting a project with Justin DeTore, one of the busiest drummers in all of heavy music. Stuck on either side of a national border, they did.
DeTore, from Boston, got his start playing and singing in hardcore bands: Mental, Righteous Jams, No Tolerance. But his interests vary widely. He did powerviolence with Mind Eraser and Wound Man, and he also became a fearless and prolific metal explorer. Over the past few months, DeTore has played major roles on huge, thundering albums from Innumerable Forms and Sumerlands. DeTore has been making intense music for a quarter of a century, but Dream Unending feels like something new from him, just like from Derrick Vella.
The two members of Dream Unending call the band “dream-doom,” a non-existent genre category that pretty much sums up their style. In Dream Unending, Justin DeTore plays drums and blasts the reverb-soaked death metal vocals. Derrick Vella plays almost everything else and sings clean vocals. Together, they take the doomed fate of 90s Peaceville Records bands as their starting point, and then push far beyond that starting point. Dream Unending songs can be long; the one called “Dream Unending” Is end, but that only happens after 11 minutes. These tracks combine a deep heaviness with an astonishing and dizzying astral beauty in strange and fascinating ways.
On a recent episode of the Great Interview Podcast passion forum, Derrick Vella rolls out a fascinating and confusing list of Dream Unending influences: King’s X, Steve Winwood, Cocteau Twins, the Cure, the Blue Nile, Alice In Chains. At one point, he launches into a spade about how he wishes he could find a harp. He couldn’t afford one, and he doesn’t have the space to keep it, but he would love to record a harp with a distortion pedal on heavy riffs. When describing the sound in his head, Vella sounds almost rhapsodic. (If you’re a harpist, tackle him.) Dream Unending is a lot like what they are: two gifted and experienced metal musicians trying to capture a colossal, elusive feeling that goes beyond understated identification. cultural or indeed land boundaries. It’s confusing, and it’s beautiful.
Last year Dream Unending came out The tide becomes eternal, their surprisingly powerful and original debut album. Vella and DeTore recorded their parts remotely, but it’s hard to think about the circumstances of the album’s creation while it’s playing. Instead, you just get lost in the sound. If you are looking for tangible echoes of Steve Winwood in The tide becomes eternal, you might come dry. But if you think of the album as the brainchild of a death metal guitar ace who proudly touts his Steve Winwood fandom, it makes more sense. The tide becomes eternal is dense and exploratory, full of left turns and new sensations. Derrick Vella’s father, David, played keyboard and piano – two instruments not exactly common in most forms of underground metal. When the voice of McKenna Rae, a singer-songwriter from Alberta, is heard, it seems to come from nowhere. Something similar happens when Richard Poe, a 76-year-old veteran actor with a lot of star trek credits and a few significant audiobooks to his name, recites a spoken passage, his majestic, dramatic voice blanketed in reverb. It’s a clear labor of love for everyone involved.
song of salvation, Dream Unending’s second album, was released a little less than a year after the first. To hear Derrick Vella say it, the recording experience The tide becomes eternal unlocked something in him. song of salvation uses, more or less, the same cast of musicians as the first album. David Vella plays keyboards again. McKenna Rae and Richard Poe make appearances, as do Max Klebanoff, member of Derrick Vella’s Tomb Mold band, trumpeter and songwriter Leila Abdul-Rauf and former Sumerlands singer Phil Swanson. Once again the album finds Derrick Vella and Justin DeTore digging deep into the mines of depression and despair and finding perfect, glittering gems amidst all the darkness.
The first song on song of salvation is 14 minutes long and opens with chiming, swirling guitar that sounds both medieval and cosmic. The last song on song of salvation is 16 minutes long and ends with a relentless, triumphant doom metal riff and cavernous roars from the depths of hell. Between the two, the music touches on wildly different sounds — giddy prog and gurgling water, tribal goth chanting ritualistic druids, renaissance-faire blues-rock, ribcage-pounding mud. The album should sound schizophrenic and hazy, but that never happens. Instead, the music works as part of the same journey. It’s unseemly to even choose different nods or gender influences in the set. Instead, the best way to hear song of salvation is to zone the mess, to let it all overwhelm you.
Dream Unending never played live, and I’m not even sure they could. The whole company seems to live in the studio, in headphones. It might be great to hear these songs out loud, but I can’t help but think they’d lose something if I heard them while headbanging in a concrete room full of other people. Instead, it’s headphone music, music designed for solitary contemplation or meditation. It’s heavy music about heavy stuff, but it brings a sense of beauty and lightness and maybe even hope. It’s been a while since I let myself get lost in an album like this. I can’t believe two musicians have made two such vast and powerful albums in the space of just one year. I can only imagine what they will be able to accomplish if they keep exploring. Someone, please bring him a harp.
song of salvation was released on 11/11 on 20 Buck Spin.
Other albums of note released this week:
• by Bruce Springsteen Only the strong survive
• Christine and the Queens Redcar the adorable stars
• Blind Soul Feel it all around
• Dumb’s pray 4 tomorrow
• LS Dunes’ Past lives
• at Jordana I’m fine, thanks for asking
• Nas’ Illness of King III
• Drowsiness dive in
• Self-titled LP by SCAB
• Hyd’s Clearing
• Homeboy Sandman’s Always Champion
• Golden Panda The work
• FaltyDL’s A nurse to my patience
• Colin Stetson Chimera I
•Jeff Parker Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy
• Bill Nace Through a room
• Blankets Feorm Falorx
• Lyrics Born’s vision board
• Ging’s We are here
• That of Nicolas Bougaïeff start in
• Smut’s how the light felt
• With Paul Maroon and Jenny Lin 13 short piano pieces
• Smidley’s here comes the devil
• Sweet Cobra’s Three
• Tony Shnow Take motivation
• Jeb Loy Nichols The United States of Broken Hearts
• Blinking Star Oblast of love
• These pretty wrongs Paper cup
• Headie One’s No borders: European compilation project
• by Louis Tomlinson faith in the future
• Morris Day’s Last call
• Fitz and tantrums Let yourself be free
• by Ludwig Göransson Black Panther: Wakanda Forever score
• Run the jewelry RTJ CU4TRO remix album
• MGMT 11-11-11 live album
• by Sharon Van Etten We Were All Wrong (Deluxe)
• The Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver compilation
•Robert Lester Folsom Sun Only Sometimes: Archives Vol. 2, 1972-1975
• GloRilla’s Anyway, life is good… PE
• Urge Seimei PE
• Busta Rhymes’ The fuse is on PE
• Stack of love Flake on the future PE
• Actress’ Dummy company PE
• Thanks to the drivers Nothing you do can stop this PE
• David Knudson undo redo PE