I’m all about vibes lately. The seasonal change from a hot, windy summer in the foothills of Colorado to a briskly cold, still windy fall has made me crave ambience along with my normal metal proclivities. Thank fuck then that both Worm and Dream Unending saw it fit to borderline shadow drop a split album called Starpath. Emboldened – and emcoldened – by the season’s first snow this past weekend, I venture forth into this cosmic castle of my undoing with a lit torch (my cell phone light with 43% battery), a trusty blade (the butcher knife I use to cut watermelons), and nerves of steel (mild anxiety and sore tummy).
For me, pumpkin spice and horror movies won’t cut it, bro. I need me some top-flight spook-’em-up shit, some doomed-up-the-dick ultra black light riffaroni pasta. I do not know of many purveyors of whatever I just said better than Worm, a band I’ve loved since 2021’s Foreverglade. Dream Unending have gained great favor with me as well with their last album, Song of Salvation, being a nice step up from their debut, Tide Turns Eternal, which was already beyond solid. These are two newer bands with only around 15 years of activity between them both – that they are both within similar realms of sound, two-person projects, and signed to the nigh unstoppable 20 Buck Spin made this an inevitability, like when your mom would schedule a playdate with a friend of hers who had a kid close to your age and tried to initiate an unbreakable bond (or at least one that lasts to nap time) by saying something like ‘look, he likes Ninja Turtles too!‘.
Unlike most splits, there’s a lot of meat/preferred meat substitute here. Starpath is lovingly made and substantial. Five tracks, but all of them are weighty, particularly on Dream Unending‘s side. Starting off with the mammoth “So Many Chances” which is 12 minutes long, we get a nice sense of where the band is at right now. Dream Unending really occupy that doomier side of the atmospheric death/doom landscape and they revel in it here. Made up of Derrick Vella (Tomb Mold, ex-Outer Heaven) and Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms, Sumerlands, ex-Magic Circle (RIP)), this isn’t really something you’d expect from this twosome with that pedigree (and more), even more so as it deviates further from their earlier work to form this wonderfully vibrant plateau of cosmic happenings, moonlit and expansive. It works so well as a vehicle for mood and gentle melody with long sections of starry-eyed guitars that smack of calm Devin Townsend work or even some laid-back Joe Satriani stuff. The keyboard work, featuring Vella’s father David Vella on a Wurlitzer, is also stellar if you’ll excuse the on-the-nose adjective.
The second Dream Unending song, “If Not Now When”, is similarly fronted by the sort of dark, death/doom vibes you can find in the most pristine caverns by the ocean occupied by hooded figures with beards longer than their lists of foreboding spells and kombucha recipes. Guitars bend and screech at the apex of their melodies, slow and curdled like a half-time grunge song. This has almost the inverse pacing of “So Many Chances” with the track starting quieter and more unassuming, building to a bolstered, groovy guitar-laden manifestation of subtle magic and power. This is the most fun I feel like Dream Unending have had with their music yet, like when an anime has a ‘beach episode’ that may not necessarily be canon, but utilizes established characters and themes in light-hearted manners. It’s so good.
For Worm, their parts on Starpath are profoundly them. There’s less variance here with them when compared to Dream Unending, but given their last effort Bluenothing, I’m fully fine with that. This is where the cheese comes in, and I’m not talking canned cheese; this is that gourmet shit from the princely part of the store your net pay doesn’t allow you to venture into often. More blackened than doomed, Worm is much less subtle with their sound, but it’s the overly-serious-but-not-really theatrical LARPing kind of black metal with haunting choral vocals, more keyboards than a school computer lab, and a sense of gothic adventure you can’t really replicate elsewhere. “Ravenblood” starts Worm‘s side off strong with soaring solos from Wroth Septentrion (known to mortals as Phil motherfucking Tougas of First Fragment, Chthe’ilist, and Atramentus), rolling double-bass drumming, and haggy vocals and ornate keyboards courtesy of Phantom Slaughter (known to mortals as Phantom motherfucking Slaughter). There’s something so Castlevania about the organs here – I feel like I’m about to swing a whip at a werewolf and eat a wall chicken I found earlier to celebrate its prophesied defeat. Great mood-setter.
“Midwinter Tears” is anything but mid – capturing a deeper sense of sadness and dread than Worm usually do these days, it’s a good conjuring of sounds based on name alone. Pretty much all the elements from “Ravenblood” (and other earlier Worm affairs) are here, but turned on their sides as a worm is wont to do. Vocals get more guttural here and I love the whirling, spacey chorus effects on the guitars. The harpsichord-esque keys in the middle really do something for me here, as short-lived as they are transcendental. “Sea of Sorrow” much to my chagrin isn’t an Alice In Chains cover, but an original work that’s the crowning jewel of Starpath, an almost seven-minute blast of brooding nautical gloom. Starting with alluring ambience, it’s the guitar drop a minute in that really digs the song’s heels into you with a godlike lead from Tougas – sorry, I mean Mr. Septentrion. This is where Worm really flex their catchy muscles with the whole midsection of this song being as infectious as catacomb fungi, a legally distinct version of tomb mold™.
Starpath is segregated, sure, but wholly complementary. Worm and Dream Unending are the Detective James Carter and Chief Inspector Lee of the cosmic doom metal world – they may be disparate beings with different methods and experiences, but they come together to accomplish a humble goal: kick copious ass. This has further strengthened my love for both bands. It could yours too, or maybe convert you to a fan if you weren’t already. This is penetrative, pensive, thoughtful metal with lovely attention paid to crafting soundscapes laced with fun rather than being the hardest, heaviest, or slowest; a great primer for this specific sound that’s easy to get into and even easier to love if you have the ears and heart for it.