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The mid-1990's were an awkward time for death metal. Many bands began to slow down their sounds, incorporating more elements of hardcore and groove metal (Sepultura, Obituary, Entombed, Massacre, Napalm Death, Desultory, etc.), with other bands seeking out more technical or progressive territory (Morbid Angel, Death, Cannibal Corpse, etc.), or simply breaking up (Autopsy, Disincarnate, Convulse, Demigod, etc.). In addition, album covers stopped being the hand-drawn pieces of gory, abstract occultism that they originally were, and began to become more computerized and "mechanical"-looking (we can thank Machine Head for that! Fuck you, Robb Flynn!!). Of course, there were also a number of bands that stayed true to themselves and passed through this awkward time without batting an eyelash (Bolt Thrower, Deicide, Vader, Unleashed, Dismember, etc.). Whether or not Benediction are one of these bands, is up for debate.
In 1995, Benediction released "The Dreams You Dread", an album that slowed things down for the band, and capitalized on the hardcore-influence that was always an obvious (if not totally underplayed) influence on the band's music. That said, this is hardly much of a "departure" for the band, it still sounds like Benediction. However, when you listen to the insipid two-note chugging that serves as the opening "riff" for "Saneless Theory", it becomes clear that there is some hardcore influence at play. That said, the increased focus on breakdowns and chugging in that song does not keep the band from delivering a simple-yet-melodic lead that would make Schuldiner applaud, and certainly sets the band far apart from the world of hardcore. The solos are the first thing I would like to point out: they are fucking awesome. I have never before really payed a whole lot of attention to Benediction's solo-work, but the solos on this album really grab your attention (and your balls).
See, some songs on this album do sound like they could have been played by a hardcore band ("Saneless Theory" & "Answer to Me"), whereas others are more-or-less just mid-paced death metal not unlike the band's earlier work, or something like Bolt Thrower or Asphyx ("Denial", "Where Flies are Born", "Path of the Serpent"), and a couple even jump back to the band's classic sound and completely do away with mid-tempos and groove in favor of speed and a pure death metal approach in the only songs that actually have any true speed to them on the entire album ("Certified?" & "The Dreams You Dread"). It's really hard to pin down exactly what the band were trying to do with this album, as each song seems to go into a different direction. You might notice some Death-like melodies and solos on "Where Flies are Born", but then be floored by the simplicity of the groove-based "Answer to Me". You might be revelling in the omni-present hardcore influence of "Down on Whores (Leave them all for Dead", and then be knocked off your feet by the pure speed and thrashiness of "Certified?". In an extreme example, the song "Negative Growth" has the listener listening to some sub-par Celtic Frost worship for over half the song before a random "Individual Thought Patterns"-era Death riff pops up.
In a way, this is good. There is something for everyone, and the album offers something new with each listen. Even as someone who does not like hardcore or groove metal music, I can appreciate that even for these genres, the songs are good and listenable. However, the album is lop-sided. It's still obvious where the band's strengths lie: pure death fucking metal. The best songs are the more death metal-oriented ones: the extremely catchy grooves of "Denial" that comes across as an unearthly marriage of Celtic Frost and Asphyx, or the melodic and extremely memorable "Where Flies are Born", etc. The more experimental songs are okay, but they are generally kind of boring and rather monotonous, relying too much on groove and not enough on genuine substance. Let's point back to the fucking stupid opening riff to "Saneless Theory" as an example...totally, utterly pathetic bullshit, right there! Or how about the stupid riffs and ideas that plague "Greifgiver"? Or the repetitive "Soulstream", which taunts the listener with a cool riff, before repeating basically the same damn thing for the entire song, before an awful Machine Head-esque riff takes a massive shit on everything?
Dave Ingram also sounds terrible on this album. His once-powerful death grunts are weak and lifeless. There is no power at all on this album, just a bodiless shout that does not even come close to his past work. I heard that he excuses this as a problem with "the mix", but I'm not so sure if that's the whole story, just listen to the album and you'll see what I mean.
Overall, this album could be viewed as an album that pays tribute to the band's beginnings. You will hear death metal that brings to mind classic bands like Celtic Frost, Death, and Asphyx, but also elements of hardcore that remind you that this album was released in 1995. If you have not listened to any Benediction, don't get this album - go get "The Grand Leveller" or "Transcend the Rubicon". If you do know this band, I would recommend getting this album. Don't expect it to blast you off your feet, but it's a neat little listen with some cool moments, and some not-so-cool moments. Certainly better than what Massacre, Sepultura, Napalm Death, Entombed, Desultory, and possibly Obituary were doing during this time.