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Buried majesty - 70%

gasmask_colostomy, January 5th, 2016

Hello, and welcome to the album that everyone loves. Seat yourself in this creaking wooden throne and let me show you around. You may see at first the same sights that the others have told you of - the raging riffs, barked vocals, that sense of something weird going on - but I beg of you, look closer, scrutinize if you will. Just as with 'The Way of Wyrd', the book that inspired the album's theme and lyrical content, you, the observer, will start to see things that you did not expect at first to see.

What everyone has reported having listened to this album is complex songwriting, inventive riffing, and intricate lyrics that do not immediately reveal their quality but take a while to get used to. I am usually inclined to believe such prevalent opinion about something of this nature, but in some cases I have to trust my own senses and say that 'Dreamweaver' is just good, not worth celebrating as much as has been proclaimed. The sad thing about it is that there are the makings here of an incredibly good album, but some of the great ideas and execution have been sat on by a few simple drawbacks, which have squashed the life out of the music here.

The first problem must be the production and the guitar tone in particular. Say what you like about Andy Sneap and all the things he has done as a producer and guitarist, but here the sound of the guitars is way off. Also, for all those claiming otherwise, he doesn't have a production credit for this album and thus did not produce it, so there's no point saying that he is responsible for the "quality sound" on 'Dreamweaver'. Listen with your ears, not your imagination. My issue with the guitar sound is its dryness and lack of distinction that keeps the riffs similar-sounding, excepting those that have some additional melody or higher-pitched notes thrown in. The riffs scrape unpleasantly against the sides of the recording like a wooden stick on a concrete wall and have a small dynamic range, which is especially damaging since the other instruments have a narrow space in the mix too, the drums scrambling and clattering with intensity though not power and the bass generally existing rhythmically or not at all. Then, to compound the whole thing, Martin Walkyier's voice is also low-pitched and raw, so everything but solos and melodies hugs the bottom of the mix. Indeed, the solos sound absolutely godly compared to everything else, so I'm extremely puzzled that such a glaring oversight was allowed to colour the whole album.

The next problem is one that the band knew about and dealt with accordingly after the release of the album. As the main songwriter, Sneap's ideas were growing ever more complex since 'History of a Time to Come' and Walkyier had been unhappy with the direction towards more progressive and long-winded structures; as such, his decision to leave (and half of the instrumentalists to clear off too) was partly a result of this dispute. I must say that I side with Walkyier on the issue, because for songs that are generally as quick as those on 'Dreamweaver', 8 minutes is certainly a problem, compounded by the fact that the production doesn't make it easy to listen to this album for any length of time. What Walkyier could certainly have done better, though, is accept the difficulties these complex songs pose to the listener and adjust his approach accordingly. He wrote some fascinating lyrics, which have more than a touch of poetic flair to them, but they are so heavily layered onto the songs and so similar in delivery that it becomes difficult to appreciate them after a couple of songs. He has no real range, nor much of a singing voice, as has been noted elsewhere, tending to propel his words with a kind of guttural, throat-centred shout that he can carry out with great speed and accuracy, though the effect is only pleasing rhythmically, not musically. Also, because of the mix, his incessant vocals cover up a lot of the riffing and is one factor in blurring the boundaries between sections and songs.

On the positive side, there is indeed a wealth of musical talent to be found in 'Dreamweaver'. I've never been the most ardent thrash fan, but Sabbat were doing enough to vary the stock formulas to make it fresh and all of the fast songs here have plentiful excitement, even when it's difficult to discern all of the different parts. 'The Best of Enemies' probably has the single best riff (the one that suddenly doubles the pace at 3:20 and 5:35) and 'Mythistory' adds atmosphere by slowing the onslaught slightly and spooning melodies over the thrash skeleton. All of the solos on this album are absolutely awesome and actually seem scarce considering the length of most of the songs. The surprise highlight must be 'Advent of Insanity', a short acoustic song that gets the mood spot on and features a break from the relentless riffs and dry production. More of that material may have been advisable.

What 'Dreamweaver' ends up being for me is an album that should be one of the best thrash albums of the 80s, yet is actually a vast disappointment. Poor decisions, poor production, and an inability to fully combine the band's talents results in the burial of many of its best features and frustration is a worse outcome than apathy from my point of view. It seems that some can overlook these deficiencies in favour of the great material underneath, but I can't listen to 'Dreamweaver' and enjoy it - I'm always preoccupied by the problems.