Words by Peter Tanski
“Song of Salvation” is. It exists. It exists in the manner that you or I do. It is an album with breath, with anima. With that distinction, it is also possessed of personality and quirk, sorrow and exuberance. When striking out upon the journey of listening, I had literally met the recording on it’s own terms. It spoke, most astutely, of it’s fears and follies, as well as the heights of ecstatic pleasure. A record with very human layers of conflict and harmony.
At a time in the landscape of popular music when we all fully and (honestly) short-sightedly, think that we cannot possibly experience something individualistic, and couldn’t possibly be more wrong. Dream Unending are the biological parents to a record as Doom Metal as it is a Jam Band record, as psychedelic as it is classically thrash, and as brutal as it is stuffed with melody. With that being said, I’d offered these questions with this awe and affinity in my heart for what many have pegged as the Metal record of the year.
Off Shelf: Tide Turns Eternal was most certainly a definitive mission statement of metallic doom, but Song Of Salvation offered a fresh grasp of the roots you celebrate and a sharper, more eviscerating attack that would be just as at home on an Acid Bath or Crowbar album. Was this a natural, more subconscious choice?
Derrick Vella: I think it came naturally out of listening back on Tide and thinking “what didn’t I do, what did I do that I want to do better, what’s missing” and other questions like that. I think we wanted to try and shed any sort of Death Metal tag from the songs, which is nearly impossible because once you’ve been pigeonholed, that is where you live for the rest of your days. It’s sort of like how my other band Tomb Mold could write a record about curing cancer by harnessing the power of the sun and everyone would still call it “disgusting”. I look at all albums initially as a blank canvas and from there you decide how you want to fill it in. I think Tide left a lot more space than Song of Salvation does. It’s busier, sort of unending – no pun intended – with its flow from each song to the next. I still hear anathema but I hear a lot more Alice in Chains on a lot of the heavy riffs. Maybe with a touch of Opeth or Crimson era Edge of Sanity.
OS: Along an uncompromising heft, this record is also anchored by a deeper melancholy. What were the emotional cues that gave impetus to this evidently bleak sound?
DV: I think it’s a wide spectrum of emotional cues, ranging from joy, love, forbidden love, to the forlorn and finding a way out. The album is about the cataloging of life experiences and finding a way to live a life of joy and fulfillment.
OS: Although a classic guttural vocal style is employed as the primary mode of delivery, there is also a smattering of well executed, clean vocal tracks on the record. This creates a diverse and exciting listening experience. Are these dynamics going to be explored further on records to come?
DV: I’m sure the clean vocals won’t go away, but I think Justin and I ultimately are more interested in exploring the songs on the more instrumental side as opposed to vocally and how we can push them further out.
OS: The album is comprised of 5 songs in 45 minutes time. This is by no means beyond the pale in Doom circles. In the short attention span 2020’s, has this hindered listenership?
DV: Probably. Honestly I’m not too sure, I shouldn’t make assumptions. It’s not a big deal. I’d rather have only 50 people that are captive listeners than, say, 500 playing it through their phone speakers and skipping after a minute. Things never go the way you want, that’s why it’s sort of good to let go of records you make once they’re released. The process and the journey of making a record is the best part for me, and that can go more or less untouched. Sacred stuff.
OS: As craftsman of maudlin metal that is epic in scale, there is an almost operatic quality to your style. Your albums appear to be singular pieces, broken into movements. Is this the manner in which they are intended?
DV: Sort of. I never have a distinct roadmap in mind but I do tend to know when I feel like something is “complete”. For instance, the last track I wrote for the album is “murmur of voices”, a sort of intermission before the closing 21 minutes of the album. I knew something was missing, and once I had written that, I felt like I had the full image of the album in my head.
OS: What was your moment of discovery, your first love in the milieu that is Metal? Was there a band, an album, a singular song that set this in motion for you?
DV: It’s an interesting question. I think “Rust in Peace” sold me on the energy, aggression and musicianship that metal can offer. But it wasn’t until I heard “Focus” by Cynic that I thought metal could truly be boundless. It’s still my favourite metal record ever.
OS: Having completed the recording and the inevitable trial by fire on stage, what is the next step in the evolution of Dream Unending?
DV: Record some more music, and try to find a way to pull this off live reasonably.
OS: Given the opportunity, forgoing the mortality of humans, monetary difficulties, and other real-life issues, what band would be your be all end all tourmates?
DV: As far as the living goes, Sir Richard Bishop. No longer living, Michael Hedges. Dream Unending would take the opening slot. We’d probably just turn the set into one long exploratory jam. No one would enjoy it except me.
OS: Fear and grief tend to drive most of us, would you all consider these negative mind states to be fuel for your respective machines or, rather, pitfalls to overcome?
DV: I see them as pitfalls, a sort of motivating tool. I look to music and songwriting to help keep me sane and I get a lot of joy out of the process, and I want that energy to cut through in the songs now more than ever.
OS: What, do you feel, would surprise your listeners about you?
DV: I listen to Phish more than I do metal. That and our deep appreciation for the album “Throwing Copper” by LIVE.
OS: If there were one, solitary song or recording that you would like to be remembered for, what would it be? Has it even been written yet?
DV: I think that’s a question better posed to fans of the music I write. There’s got to be at least 3 or 4 people on this planet with an opinion on that. I would guess they would say “Ecstatic Reign”. If it were up to me, I’d just say I haven’t written it yet, I need some room to go up from here! [laughs]