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I can imagine the mid-eighties must have been an exciting time to be young and playing in a metal band. Metal was undergoing some big overhauls which saw the underground moving in an altogether, more extreme direction. Death metal as style had really yet to blossom into a full fledged genre, though there were several bands who were laying the foundation, some of which who would go on to endure the genre's difficult birth pangs and be seen as leaders of a new movement. There were still so many barriers in extreme music that had yet to be crossed, and because of the still very small number of people into extreme metal, young bands had a much better chance creating something that stood out.
One such act who emerged during this time of change was Pittsburgh, PA's very own Dream Death. While this site claims this is not atually their first show, as it says on the back of the cd, it is at the very least a show from the early days of the band. All of the songs are pulled from demos circa 1986, and a few covers are slipped in, as young bands often do to extend their set lists and play some songs people are familiar with.
I bought this release mainly because it was a joint effort between Hell's Headbanger's and Nunslaughter Records, and actually knew nothing about Dream Death at the time, I just assumed it would be a fun little bit of old school metal as Nunslaughter are champions of that style. What I got certainly delivered the goods, but was in no way what I was really expecting.
Dream Death really stood out from the pack(even at this embryonic stage), and their music at this point is a little difficult to pin down. While the album name boasts of "Sludge Metal", I'm not sure I agree wholly with this term. Sure, many of this bands riffs are indeed low and slow, often sounding as if they are oozing out of the speakers, but even the slowest of dirges are often punctuated with muddied bursts of speed that range from blasting fast to more circle pit friendly tempos. In fact, much of the time this band ends up sounding more like a thrash metal band experimenting with much slower material. Even the vocals sound like a more hardcore influenced version of Slayer's Tom Araya.
For me however, the faster parts only make the slower parts more crushing and doom laden. Which is a good thing because this set isn't quite as doomy as you would expect from this supposedly seminal doom metal band. Doom metal at this point had really yet to define itself as a melting pot of over used Sabbath riffs, so Dream Death were able to put a different spin on that style. While at this time you did have great bands like Saint Vitus portraying doom as an extension of heavy rock, Dream Death's brand of doom is altogether more violent, discomforting, and lacking the druggy haze of rock music influence, while opting instead for a more straight metal influence. The covers of Angel Witch and Celtic Frost firmly display this trio's aspirations in terms of concept and substance, while other then current "demo" bands like Massacre come to mind.
So how does "Pittsburgh Sludge Metal" really stack up as a live album? Well, probably not that well from a technical standpoint. The entire performance is peppered with mistakes and pretty sloppy overall, but for the most part avoids falling apart completely. As already mentioned this is one of the bands earliest performances, and their playing ends up sounding somewhat nervous and unsure of their musics potential, something probably not helped by the mild crowd response.
The sound quality is pretty raw, like most extreme metal of this time, but doesn't suit a live show as well as it would a demo. The guitar is very thin and is often buried by the huge plodding bass, which dominates the album. This is both good and bad, as the sound of the bass guitar is quite gnarly, and highlights the sludge element of this bands sound. But being the loudest instrument in the mix means that mistakes can be very noticeable, and the bass is a little too sloppy to be so loud and up front.
All things considered I think that this release really only works two different ways. One being for the crazed Dream Death fan looing to peer deeper into the groups history, or for those like me, who just enjoy a bit of good, raw nostalgia for people who like to remember a time when extreme metal was still exciting, sloppy as hell, and fun