DREAMS OF GRAY – The World Over EP

According to his own press materials, Abolisher’s Luis Rivera formed Dreams of Gray almost by accident. Finding himself unable to perform due to the pandemic lockdown of 2020, he spent time working on new studio ideas, and this intensive thrash/death crossover release was the result. Although it only features three tracks, ‘The World After’ delivers very highly in terms of old school riffs.

Its opening track, ‘Performance v Justice’ quickly latches onto a barrage of thrash riffs where speed and technicality are of the essence. The production and tones owe a great debt to classic Kreator, and also share strong similarities with underground riff monsters Zarraza, quickly demonstrating how intense Rivera can be when it comes to creating a musical backdrop. With the classic thrash verses giving way to an even bigger chorus arrangement where the jagged chords subside and a dirtier metal riff carries echoes of Testament, the solid sound takes a stronger hold before the arrangement fills a little space with the kind of aggressive lead sounds created by the guitarists from the Shrapnel stable. There’s immediately a deep love of classic thrash and speed metal being shared, and that’s more than enough to catch the ear. Unfortunately, when it comes to quality, the vocals are a different matter. The bulk of the number is filled by a classic death metal growl – which will be make or break for some – but the bigger issue comes with a weird roar on the chorus, which in some ways is more melodic, but in others, sounds like a parody of trad metal put through a death metal filter. It isn’t pleasant, and actually threatens to derail everything. Luckily, a few listens ensures that any weirdness starts to sound more ordinary, allowing the listener to concentrate a little more on the music in hand, and with a strong ascending riff creeping in towards the track’s end, and Luis dropping in a couple of horsey squeals, there’s plenty that works in an old school way, even though the track isn’t exactly perfect.

By comparison, ‘Life In Gray’ plays a little straighter, but the arrangement still presents a wealth of classic sounding thrash riffs throughout, which are occasionally complimented by a twin lead sound that could have been pulled from an old Helloween LP. As before, most of the solid musical backdrop is offset by an opinion splitter of a vocal, and Luis offers an even deeper death growl throughout. Musically, the number’s best moments are supplied by a busy riff leading into a solo, where the sounds veer towards ‘Beneath The Remains’ era Sepultura, and an unexpected coda uses a simple doom riff to pull the listener gradually deeper into the fade. Luckily, Luis forgoes the weirder metallic howls on this song, but there are still occasions where a backing vocal sounds like a man wailing in another room, possibly singing to something to some trad metal on his earphones, unaware of any eavesdroppers. That’s not enough to spoil anything, but it’s an unwelcome reminder of this release’s cheaper and less professional aspects.

Last up, the title track opens with clean guitar and bass sounds which convey more of a spooky stoner/desert rock mood, or a weird take on an old Sepultura intro. Further unexpected sounds follow when Luis embarks on a strange gothic trip where mumbled vocals and heavy beats fill the opening verse. Predictably, this soon ventures into a retro metal arrangement, but unlike before, the influences come from slow, doom metal acts as opposed to thrash. Rivera’s talents here are just as adept; he tackles each intensely oppressive chord with a heavy stroke, and that creates a wall of sound that’s fitting for another deep growl. Eventually, the programmed drums dictate an increase in tempo, but instead of diving straight for a thrash arrangement, there are experiments with black metal harshness which is actually better suited to the material. The lengthier track could do without more weird crooning, but at least any of Rivera’s temptations to wail uncontrollably are mercifully brief. As with the bulk of this EP, the music isn’t particularly contemporary for the time of release, but there’s a pleasing nostalgia here that very much works in Dreams of Gray’s favour, and the much slower tempo shows off a very different side of the multi-instrumentalist’s talent. It would be hard to call this the EP’s best track, since that slower mood throws more of a focus upon an average vocal, but it’s great to hear him branching out a little more.

Is it possible to form a band by accident when you’re a one-man project? Semantics aside, Rivera clearly felt that some this material was different enough to Abolisher’s thrash/death crossover sound to warrant a new name, despite ‘The World After’ sometimes trading off a very similar sound. For old school thrash fans, the music here will definitely please, but there’s little getting around the fact that Rivera’s chosen vocal style will limit any chances of reaching as much of that audience as he deserves. Still, for those who can cope with a death infused vocal and influence, this small package could still deliver a few musical thrills.

February 2023