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Blast Rites

Dream Unending Build Their Own Worlds Through Gorgeous Doom Metal

We spoke with guitarist Derrick Vella on the duo's stunning full-length debut
(Credit: Jake Ballah, Justin DeTore)

When I first heard about Dream Unending, I did the Vince McMahon meme in real time, excitement scaling too far past healthy or sustainable. Tomb Mold’s Derrick Vela teaming up with prolific bruiser Justin DeTore (of Innumerable Forms, Sumerlands, Magic Circle, Mind Eraser, numerous other killer bands) to take on the Peaceville Three sound? The audacity and the ecstasy!

The Peaceville Three – My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost – were goth metal innovators in the early and mid-’90s, shrouding doom metal in funereal violins, maudlin synths fallen from new age’s unblemished heavens, and many Rimbaud and Bryon marathons at 3 AM. Their beauty is like a pristine object cracked by time and misery, where godliness shows mortality. Even as goth metal became its own flourishing subgenre, no one could match the particular energy of that era, and in all fairness, that’s a big ask. Tide Turns Eternal, Dream Unending’s debut, not only does that sound proud, but builds a new world from it. Vella brings lush instrumentation as crushing as it is delicate (as an added touch, his father David plays keyboards that nail early Anathema, making the album into an engrossing, infathomable lake), and DeTore provides the more metallic backbone, putting a ghostly visage on Innumerable Forms’ deep growls and coming though on drums both thundering and understated. Together, it’s divine intoxication – when DeTore’s rolling double bass and Vella’s deliberate hand meld as they do on single “In Cipher I Weep” and the monstrous title track, or in “Dream Unending” when the proverbial skies open to a spoken-word passage from actor Richard Poe, like the fear-of-God intro of Trouble’s “Psalm 9” slammed in the middle of the song, nothing from this year is as commanding. It doesn’t just encourage metamorphosis, it damn near demands it.

Read our chat with Vella below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

SPIN: What made y’all want to explore and build upon the early ‘90s Peaceville sound?
Derrick Vela: It was Justin’s idea. We didn’t get into the meat of it until a couple years ago, probably around the time Tomb Mold was writing the last record, Planetary [Clairvoyance] was when we kinda started talking about it. I love all that gothic doom stuff, especially as you get to the softer side, like The Gathering, Tiamat, Theatre of Tragedy – I love all that stuff, but it’s really hard to find people who also love it and it’s even harder who can love it who can play instruments. I don’t have any real ties to that world of musicians. Justin loves that stuff, and Justin does the things that I can’t do, which is play drums and do vocals. We complement each other perfectly for this. We didn’t wanna write riffs that sounded just like Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride, it was more so the world they build on their records, like the more emotive aspect of their music I found is what really drew me in. For me, doom has always just been much more an emotional stream of metal than others.

In my head, there’s two types of doom, there’s like bellbottom doom and there’s cargo pant doom, and cargo pant doom is, either way, spookier and darker or it’s way more emotive sounding, more gothy or more forlorn. And I think for Justin, [this record] was fun because of all of his bands are usually either knuckle-dragging hardcore bands or heavy metal bands. It was fun to take him out of his comfort zone.

I feel like a lot of metal bands chase a sound, but not a vibe, because that’s harder to grip. What sort of vibe were y’all chasing?
I think for us, we’re definitely conscious of – we’re not gonna be a spooky gloom band, we’re not gonna be a nihilistic sounding band, we’re gonna be a little brighter. The album cover’s gonna have warm color, it’s gonna have color, it’s not gonna be black and white or have splashes of something, it’s gonna be bright, it’s gonna be vivid. The record’s gonna be bright sounding because of all these clean guitars playing high notes and it’s gonna be pretty. It’s a hopeful record, there’s a real life-affirming thread that runs through the whole thing. We wanted to lean more into that. There’s enough downer stuff out there, that’s just not what we wanna do.

The record is about not losing hope, it’s about moving forward, coming to terms with your place in this world, in this universe, what it means to have a soul, what it means to let go, to be free, all that kind of stuff. I think the spoken-word part kind of sums up what the album’s about to me. The idea is you’re being visited by a former version of yourself – your soul has been living longer than your physical self, it will continue to live. It’s almost like you’re meeting your former self and they’re trying to say to you “I’m live the same dream you live.” I think on a larger level, thinking like that is a better way of thinking. We’re all in the same boat here, more or less. We’re all on the same journey, we’re all living this thing called life, and I think there’s something profound about that.

What more can you tell us about the title track and Richard Poe, who spoke on it?
He’s an actor, but he also narrates audiobooks for a part of his living, and he did the audiobook for East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which is my favorite book ever. His voice resonated with me so much that I gravitated towards listening to the audiobook version. Down the road, years later, we had this idea for the spoken word part on the album. I couldn’t get my first choice, which was Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile, because I couldn’t get in touch with him. Too many barriers – talked to the publicist, who was like “I’ll talk to the manager, and the manager will talk to Paul” – I don’t have for that, so I just emailed this dude through his website and he got back to me later that night and was like “yeah, this is a strange request, I’ll do it.” I wrote it, he spoke it, and we gave it to Arthur Rizk, who mixed and mastered the record, and I was like “make it sound like Marlon Brando’s floating head in the original Superman movie.”

Speaking of Blue Nile, I’ve been listening to Hats a lot lately. What a record.
One of the greatest albums ever made. From the vibe, how everything stacks on each other sound-wise, the sequencing of that record flows so well – that’s the record I always think about when I’m arranging songs in my head of running order.

I had trouble describing it to a friend recently – like it’s from the ‘80s but doesn’t sound “‘80s,” I can see Sinatra on some of those songs – it’s got a vibe like no other record.
If people are like “what kind of band are they,” my immediate response is they’re adult contemporary. I don’t know how else to say it, they’re a dreamy-sounding band, but they’re not a post-punk band. That sounds like such a dirty term, adult contemporary, but I don’t know how else to put it. What a great record. I love all their albums a lot, actually. A guy wrote a biography about them a few years back called Nileism, and I read it a couple times because it’s such a funny bio because they’re such an un-extraordinary band. They’re just these dudes who took forever to make records and their label was always annoyed at them. But the songs are packed full of these really beautiful, introspective moments, and especially when you get to the last record [High], it’s way more depressing in tone. The closing track is called “Stay Close” and that’s the saddest song a band could go out on, and I love it. I think about how that record ends versus Hats, “Saturday Night” is a much more upbeat song.

I always think about that stuff when you’re writing an album – how do you want it to end, how do you want to people to feel by the end? It’s tough with metal – you can’t end on a completely positive note or else you’re playing major chords and it’ll just sound sort of triumphant, I don’t want that. I really like the balance we struck with the end of “Tide Turns Eternal.” The clean vocals – it’s my friend McKenna [Rae] singing that, what’s she singing and the ending is so intense and it just stops on a dime, and I’m very satisfied with that.

Let’s talk about that track a little more – there’s that rolling double bass, those clean vocals, it’s such a release, such an opening even though it’s the last song.
That was one of those songs, very rarely do I ever try to dictate what Justin would play, but on that one I was like “I think you do this constant double bass until it changes to this static-y, chunky [part] – when you play that, play the part from ‘In the Grip of Winter’ by Autopsy.” From there, that song, a lot of it was the bare heavy chords, and I don’t think I wrote the back half until maybe a month after I started writing the song.

Justin and I are both fans of the song “We the Gods” by Anathema, and that song has a big, big ending. He was like “we should write an ending like that,” but I couldn’t think of a riff, but I was like “what if I played the clean riff heavy” and it sounded amazing. That double kick part, it really came to life when I started adding extra guitars, playing lower melodies or higher melodies over it. The album and each song is world-building, layer after layer after layer. The fun thing is because I’m the only person doing [guitar], I have my own pace to work at, but it allows me to write 60% of a song, dwell on it for a while, and come back to it when I have something. That one and “Dream Unending” were the big songs to write, they’re the longest songs on the album. There’s a lot of moving parts, I feel like very rarely we stay on anything for too long, and I think that’s a fear of boredom, a fear of boring the listener. Though you can give me an Esoteric song that’s 20 minutes long and they can play the same part for six minutes and I’m all in, but there’s something in me that prevents me from writing that for my own stuff.

Dude, Esoteric are amazing. Subconscious is one of my favorite records ever.
That song “The Blood of the Eyes” is fucking primo. In my head, if someone’s like “what the greatest metal band to ever exist,” for me it’s Esoteric. They just did so much stuff, they were so weird, but they have such a keen sense of melody. They write some of the prettiest stuff and some of the ugliest stuff too. Also, the thing about them that I appreciate about Justin is they’re not metal fans, they’re music fans, you know what I mean? I think they were really into a lot of the same gothy, 4AD stuff that me and Justin are fans of. You can hear it in their sound.

Ambient and new age music are sort of having a moment right now. With the keyboards on here, do you think people who are into that sort of stuff will find something to connect with this record?
I wonder. The fun thing about this record was showing to friends of mine who don’t like metal. They found they could connect with parts easier than other bands of mine. It’s really pretty, and it’s never too jarring or assaulting, even the heavy stuff. Some people might gravitate more towards one side of the record than the other. Some people might like the heavier stuff, some people might like the cleaner stuff. Some people might like both – that’s a real win. It’s the kind of band where I would rather tour with a shoegaze band than another metal band. Especially with stuff we’ll write going forward, where we’ll just double down on the things we really like about the first record, especially the clean stuff and writing more on the 12-string electric that I have. If I could make this band a real band, and I only had to play clean parts, that would be so dope. I’d have so much fun with that.

It’d be interesting too if y’all took a path like Anathema or Paradise Lost where y’all got poppier as you progressed.
If I could convince Justin to go that way, of course, I would.

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