Dream Unending are an atmospheric death doom band formed by members Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms/Sumerlands) and Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold/Outer Heaven). The two-piece has already received much fanfare for their 2021 debut Tide Turns Eternal and already less than a year later they have their follow up Song Of Salvation. We discussed the band’s songwriting process, what it’s like to record in isolation, their particular influences, the spectacular artwork and the myriad of guest musicians on this record. These massive songs need to be heard as do the following words from both Justin and Derrick. Read on below for what helped make Song Of Salvation the next chapter in the Dream Unending lexicon.
Tom Campagna: What has it been like between albums?
Justin DeTore: Well, we really didn’t have time to catch our breath. We jumped right into writing for the new one after Tide was completed. I didn’t have any expectations of doing a second one so soon after the first, but Derrick was inspired. That in turn got me excited to work on something new.
Derrick Vella: Once I had finished tracking my end of Tide Turns, I had a lot of real estate open in my head, naturally to fill with new riffs and song ideas. I wasn’t working on anything at the time and was so juiced from recording that I wanted to keep pushing and see what I came up with. I’m not one to give myself a “break” of any sort with songwriting.
What’s the dichotomy like between this band and Innumerable Forms/Tomb Mold?
Justin: Totally different process. Forms I write a good chunk of the music, with Dream Unending I’m mostly just a lyricist with occasional input in song arrangement. Also, philosophically and spiritually the bands couldn’t be more different. (laughs)
Derrick: Justin gives me a lot of space to operate, which I appreciate. Often, I show Justin the songs as they progress, but sometimes he hears them at 80 percent done or more. With Tomb Mold, I write the songs as somewhat fully formed ideas but once I bring them to Payson and Max, we tweak a lot and then pick solo spots and I’m always open to little changes and whatnot. With Tomb Mold, I count on Payson and Max to get into the weeds with tiny details because I’m usually a little exhausted after constructing the songs. For some reason with Dream Unending, I allow myself to get more meticulous. It’s probably because it’s just me. If I showed up to Tomb Mold practice with a song and didn’t allow for input from them, the songs would suffer, and I would be an asshole. Justin is good about little nudges and notes though too. Maybe we debate it but it’s always welcome. He’s usually right anyways. Spiritually, Dream Unending is unlike any of the other bands we do.
What kinds of dynamics do you like to include on Dream Unending’s songs? What are the particular influences?
Justin: Vocally I take a lot from early Anathema, classic death/doom, Finnish DM and funeral doom in general. I try not to sound like any one person but naturally those influences are going to be heard.
Derrick: Musically, I don’t think about it too much or rather, the influence shows itself after writing a riff or part. For instance, a riff might sound like something from an Esoteric song, but I don’t set out to write an Esoteric riff, it just kind of happens. Otherwise, my solos on SOS are more or less constant love notes to Steve Lukather, the clean sections are a sort of new age-y mish mash of things I like from John McLaughlin and Led Zeppelin, maybe a touch of Fields of the Nephilim/Clan of Xymox (mostly atmospherically). I never set out to write something specific, I just sort of see where an idea will take me until I feel like I’ve reached its natural conclusion.
It seems like beauty plays a huge part in Song Of Salvation. What allows for you to draw so much emotion out of this new set of songs and the band in particular?
Justin: The purpose of this band was to always be emotive…to express ourselves in ways we don’t generally get to do in our other bands. It’s a unique opportunity for me and I’m eternally grateful.
Derrick: Agreed. I think with Tide, we knew that we were being overtly emotional and somewhat spiritual at times, but unsure as to how it would be interpreted. With SOS, I think we felt less worried and we were able to dig a little deeper on all of those things. Sound wise, we scrubbed out a bit of the modulation effects that made Tide sound like a hazy wobbly affair, and went for more shimmering reverbs and delays. Make the songs sound huge and heavenly. We were more forthcoming with clean vocals and spoken parts on this one to help convey a message.
What was behind the album artwork this time around?
Derrick: Benjamin Vierling painted the cover for this album. We’ve been so fortunate to work with such terrific artists on both albums. I gave Ben a sort of idea about what the record was going to say, showed him some lyrics and whatnot and he really ran with it. I might have given him a rough idea, but he made it the fully realized piece that it is. So much detail and conviction behind every decision he made. It’s such a beautiful piece that feels a little tragic but at the same time, shows this depiction of new life springing from a frozen wasteland.
What was it like working with so many guest musicians this time around?
Justin: A true honor. Everyone who contributed to this record is a special talent and it feels good to share it with them.
Derrick: Everyone who was gracious enough to lend a hand on this album did a spectacular job. “Secret Grief” for example is a fine song made great by Phil Swanson’s vocals, Leila Abdul-Rauf’s trumpet playing, and my dad’s piano playing. My friend McKenna Rae singing on “Ecstatic Reign” is such an amazing part. She absolutely nailed it. It was nice to sneak Max from Tomb Mold on there for some quick vocals, and a bunch of friends lent me their whispers. Such a blessing.
Do you plan to take the band out on the road or is this strictly a studio project?
Justin: Would love to play some shows in the future. When that will happen? I don’t know.
Derrick: What he said.
Was this album recorded separately from one another like the last time, or was this more cohesive and in person?
Justin: Separate like the last time. I felt way more confident this time around because I was more comfortable with this method. It also helps to work with someone like Arthur Rizk, who is gonna make sure you are happy with the finished product.
Do you think the solitary nature of recording this album leads to some of the greater introspective sections of each song?
Justin: Interesting question. Truth be told, I would rather record as a collective, but the circumstances did not allow it. I think both me and Derrick are pretty introspective people so I don’t think the album would have lacked any depth if we had tracked it together. (laughs)
Derrick: I think it works for me, though I would rather enjoy being able to jam with Justin. I like having a lot of solo time to dwell on things, I’d probably be really into playing together once the songs were “written,” but it wouldn’t lack any introspection I don’t think. I often wonder if we could play the songs live, where we could take them. I’d love to make “Ecstatic Reign” half an hour long with a bunch of friends playing it live with us. Might be Justin’s nightmare though.
“Ecstatic Reign” is a monster closer in heaviness, variety, and song length, what led to such a grandiose conclusion for the album?
Justin: Derrick can answer this one better than me. The original idea for the album was for it to be two monolithic tracks, “Song of Salvation” and “Ecstatic Reign.” We added more songs later because it felt right.
Derrick: That’s right, I think I was worried about putting out another full length so soon after that I was trying to treat it as an EP. But the more I dwelled on it, it felt like a foolish idea, that I would be leaving a lot on the table. I was writing more songs, so it got fleshed out to a full length. It wouldn’t have been as good. Even if you don’t like the middle, well that’s your problem but it would have felt like a much less realized output. I don’t remember how I wrote “Ecstatic,” but most of it came together organically. I think I outlined it in two or three sessions. Maybe 2. I wasn’t trying to chase “long song length” but moreso, chasing what felt like a natural end. It just takes 16 minutes to get there!
What are the plans for you two for the immediate future, all projects considered?
Justin: Maybe something new down the line with Dream Unending? Who’s to say? Perhaps a new Innumerable Forms tape at the beginning of the year. I would love to play out more with any of my bands. That’s all for now.
Derrick: Some more Dream Unending probably, a Tomb Mold LP someday, a blues record, and I tracked some bass for an Outer Heaven LP that I think will make its way to the people someday!
(interview published November 11, 2022)
Listen To Dream Unending – Song Of Salvation Album