|Dream Death originally began as a power trio in 1985 with Brian Lawrence on vocals and guitar, Ted Williams on bass, and the famous Mike Smail on drums. It was with this line up that they began to write, record and play out around the Pittsburgh area. They released their self-titled, first demo cassette during the summer of 1986, which featured six tracks in just under thirty-five minutes culminating in their epic eponymous theme song "Dream Death". They then decided on bringing in another guitarist and former Doomwatch bassist Terry Weston was added to the lineup. Shortly after, during November '86 the band cut another self-released cassette tape entitled More Graveyard Delving.
This was their first release to feature "Back From The Dead" and "The Elder Race" which were staples in Dream Death's live shows, shows for which they were mainly known back in those days. With many memorable performances under their belt and a heavy tape trading circuit to boot, word of mouth spread slowly and quietly across the Rust Belt about Dream Death. This attention, little though it was, was enough to attract further attention from Hellion lead singer Ann Boleyn's then blossoming metal label, New Renaissance Records. Dream Death were asked to contribute to New Renaissance's Speed Metal Hell, vol. 3 compilation in 1987, which also features an early track called "Disbelief" by the then unknown New York band Prong. Dream Death answered New Renaissance back with "Method To Madness" which is an earlier and much faster version of a track that would later appear on their only studio album. The revised version of the song would later be called "Hear My Screams".
New Renaissance soon gave Dream Death a full ride which resulted in their debut album Journey Into Mystery. Released around the Halloween of '87, Journey Into Mystery displays a plethora of nuance and sophistication in comparison to any of their other recordings. The album starts off with "Back From The Dead" and sets up this record and band perfectly by its doomed out chugging parts that become crunchy stop starts and then display some extra jagged solo riffs later on in the track. Some of the solos on this album raise goosebumps and sound as if you're being whisked through a tunnel of horrific sensory madness. The grim lyrics concerning death and "in your face" vocal approach borrowed heavily especially from the New York hardcore scene that preceded them. "The Elder Race" is a great example of lyrics based on the work of Robert E. Howard. In particular, a yarn entitled "The Shadow Kingdom", about a hidden race of serpent men who secretly plot to usurp the usurper king Kull of Valusia.
The choice to play slower than the typical and much more popular metal bands at the time while retaining the cutting bite of thrash metal and punk energy is what translates so well through Dream Death and is probably the reason why they were known more as a live act, as so many other great bands of that era. Even the legendary Pentagram were known mostly from their various live performances in and around the DMV for well over fifteen years before they ever cut their very first official album. "The Elder Race" is followed by "Bitterness and Hatred" which is an outspoken denouncement of bigotry in all forms. One must appreciate how effortlessly Dream Death transitions their lyrical themes between these two tracks, which are two of their very best. "Black Edifice" drives the nail deep into the proverbial coffin, as far as sealing the creepy and cultish vibes which permeate throughout Journey Into Mystery. The perfect doomed out intro to this track is where Mike Smail's drumming really shines, in particular because it's so youthful at this point before he would later go on to handle drum duties not only with Cathedral on their debut classic Forest Of Equilibrium, but then following that with a lengthy career in another great Pittsburgh band known as Penance and later joined up with Pentagram in 2003 for the recording of their 2004 album Show 'em How.
Shortly after the release of Journey Into Mystery, Ted Williams left Dream Death to join the steel city crossover outfit Eviction, who were soon picked up by Metal Blade Records for their debut release entitled The World Is Hours Away. Eviction then disbanded shortly after their debut as well. Williams and guitarist Rob Tabachka went on to form the garage punk band Pilsner which lasted well into the mid-90′s. Richard Freund was called in to take over the bass slinging in Dream Death and the band returned to the studio in July of 1988 to record what resulted in their final self-released demo tape entitled Ode To Sorrow. Freund would later go on to form the short live doom/thrash project Deathmass. Each of the three tracks on Ode To Sorrow average about seven minutes and see Dream Death maturing more into their own in terms of their writing and song structures. The change in direction was as obvious to fans as it was to the individual members of the band who later regrouped under the name Penance. Despite the crushing force that is Journey Into Mystery, Dream Death seem more comfortable letting their songs play out to be far slower than the tracks on any of their few previous recordings. "The Unseen" and "A Wayfarer's Tale" are especially brilliant compositions that were thankfully explored further by Penance on their first album The Road Less Travelled (Rise Above; 1992).
Penance was essentially formed in the considerable wake left behind by Dream Death. Somehow Dream Death had failed to gain a solid footing in either the doom or death metal scenes at the time despite being at the very forefront of innovation for both. Their brief and seemingly incomplete career is arguably the strongest example of why many American death metal bands would later incorporate sludge elements into their song structures more frequently in the 90′s. Bands such as Autopsy and Cianide especially owe a great deal to Dream Death for almost single-handedly pioneering the death doom genre in a very significant way many years prior. Dream Death is also very integral to the development of the American sludge scene of the 1990′s despite never having penetrated it. Burning Witch, Eyehategod, Winter, Greif and many others owe everything to Dream Death. Dream Death were poised to take metal by storm in the late 80′s and if they had been able to do so at the time following the release of Journey Into Mystery they would now be looked back on and considered as an obvious classic rather than a lost classic, or possibly both is what they truly are and always have been ever since calling it quits in the spring of 1989.
Not until 2005 had interest in Dream Death resurfaced when the Austrian label PsycheDOOMelic Records re-released their first two cassettes on the CD compilation entitled Back From The Dead. A few years later, in 2009, Hell's Headbangers put out the live album Pittsburgh Sludge Metal, which on some versions claims to be a recording of the band's very first show but actually isn't. Regardless, it's still a brilliant time capsule of the band in their prime just before the recording of Journey Into Mystery.
Dream Death have since reformed in 2011 to play some live shows in 2012 and 2013 and record a new album to be released in 2013.
Source: Word Press review with Brian Lawrence, 2012