Dreaming Dead - Without Judgment
By: David E. Gehlke
Beset with a revolving door of second guitar players, a label change, and the proverbial tough road that a fledging underground act has to travel, California's Dreaming Dead have certainly put their frustrations to good use on their self-released sophomore effort, Midnightmares. The band's sound is certainly of the technical death metal variety, but it's not as maniacal as the likes of Obscura and Spawn of Possession; rather Dreaming Dead operates in the comfortable confines of mid-90's era Death, with streamlined melodies rounding things out. Songs like dual instrumentals "Wake and "Memorial," along with "Corpse Mountain" make a compelling argument for the advancement of death metal against the rising retro death metal tide, as guitarist/vocals Elisabeth Schall unleashes a fiery roar that complements her versatile six-string attack. Furthermore, the band's growth from 2008's Within One is marked, suggesting that even higher plateaus are around the corner.
Shortly after the release of Midnightmares, we snagged Schall and drummer Mike Caffell for a round of questions. Here's how the pair responded...
Blistering.com: You recently scaled-back to a three-piece. How did that come about?
Mike Caffell: Well, Liz and I were the only musicians on the demo and on Within One, but Juan [Ramirez, bass] has been with us for a long time now and he wrote material for Midnightmares and played on the album. In a live setting we’ve always fluctuated between having three or four members. Actually, as it stands now we’ve just brought on our good friend Chris McCarthy as a fourth permanent member.
Blistering.com: Are you at the point where you’ll stay as a trio with Michael and Juan out of necessity?
Caffell: Well, now that we have four permanent members, we’ll move ahead writing together, playing live together, and eventually contributing to the next album.
Blistering.com: We’re several years out from Within One, so how long did it take to get the material for Midnightmares together?
Caffell: We’ve been writing the material since before Within One came out, so I guess it’s taken us about three years. We did a couple of demo recordings and honed the songs to our standards before recording. It also took us a while to mix and master the album. We don’t have label so we were able to be picky and take our time.
Blistering.com: From purely a technical standpoint, it appears as if you’ve stepped up your game from Within One. Did you put in a lot of time wood shedding for the new album?
Caffell: Honestly, we didn’t really put any specific effort into practicing more or anything like that. I think the three of us have just continued to evolve and improve as musicians. We also did a fair amount of touring after Within One, and that always helps your chops.
Blistering.com: To that point, your rhythm playing is exceptionally tight. Do you think that’s the best part of your playing?
Liz Schall: Absolutely. It’s how everything started for me. When I first picked up the guitar I only focused on rhythm playing. I didn’t have the patience to sit and figure out or write leads. It wasn’t until seven years into my guitar playing I began focusing on leads.
Blistering.com: The new album has a distinct melodic feel to it, reminiscent of latter-day Death. Did you use them as a guide when writing the new songs?
Caffell: It’s so interesting to me that about 90% of the press we’ve received for the album compares us to Death; not that I mind that. I really like Death, Liz likes Death, and Juan is the biggest fan in the band, but we’ve never gone out of our way to sound like them.
Blistering.com: The two instrumentals (“Wake” and “Memorial”) are definite album highlights. What prompted you to include them?
Caffell: Wake was intended as an instrumental from the beginning, whereas “In Memoriam” was a song that we put together in pieces, and we just decided not to include lyrics on it. For “Wake,” we had been playing the song as an intro live, and we just thought it would be a nice opener for the album. Its companion piece, “Departure,” closes the album, so there is kind of a completeness to the whole work. “In Memoriam” just ended up being awesome enough that we felt like it stood on its own without lyrics. We’ve been getting a lot of good feedback on that tune.
Blistering.com: Love the cover artwork from Travis Smith. What type of ideas did you feed him when he was creating it?
Schall: The only idea I provided was the album title, so for the most part he already knew what he was going to do. We did work together with all the details, colors, variations for the artwork layout, etc.
Blistering.com: Are you comfortable being an independent band at the present time? Were you unhappy being on Ibex Moon?
Schall: I wasn’t necessarily unhappy with Ibex Moon. They helped us as much as they could, put out or first album, placed us on a Master, Goreaphobia tour. Once all that was over we decided move forward in a different direction.
Blistering.com: How often do you come across people who are surprised that you’re in a death metal band?
Schall: Quite a bit. I think mainly because I’m female and it’s not expected. The most important part is that it’s always welcomed and folks also have an energetic response to it.
Blistering.com: Do you think the novelty of females in death metal will ever go away? Is it something you use to your advantage?
Schall: I think females in death metal bands is relatively new, but like anything our ideas and surroundings will always evolve and change for better or for worse. I don’t feel I have no need to use my gender to my advantage. I only let my music speak for itself.
Blistering.com: Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest of 2012?
Schall: We have some West Coast touring and local shows planned, but for the most part we’ll be in the studio writing new material for our third album.