Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. Counter intuitive, yes. But as I’ve progressed through life I’ve found this to be true. Perhaps related to a career, where one has to go back to the drawing board to re-learn concepts long forgotten from some slept-through college lecture. Or in one’s personal life, where sometimes rehashing old wounds is the only way to progress past them. Music often falls into this same trajectory. Sometimes the alteration of sound works against a band rather than for them. While I am an enormous proponent of progression and change in music, how a band decides to engage in new musical and thematic concepts matters. Some do it right (Artificial Brain, Ingurgitating Oblivion), while some do not (latter-day Metallica, Morbid Angel). Yes, the parenthetical suggestions used to prove my point here are infinitely debatable, but I would make the argument that not all of these bands’ forays into uncharted territory worked in their favor. So it’s nice to see a band keep to their progressive trajectory, but pull from their back catalog elements that make their sound more enjoyable. Inanimate Existence are one of those bands, and with Underneath a Melting Sky have further perfected their sound by staying adventurous while simultaneously plundering the most essential elements of their past records.
This new album is the band’s fourth full-length, consists of eight tracks, and is jam packed with measured, heavy, consistent songwriting and riff-building. Think Fallujah with less meandering instrumentation, Archspire with more tonal moderation, or Rivers of Nihil with a helluva lot more focus. The band’s last album, Calling from a Dream, deviated from the band’s strengths to some extent, feeling closer to a rip-off of the above bands than a fully-fleshed and original work. While it had its merits and overall I found it an enjoyable experience, I found myself reaching back to the band’s earlier works weeks after its release. Despite taking marked leaps forward in songwriting ambition and production, the band’s music just did not resonate. It felt like two steps forward, three steps back to this listener. Enter Underneath a Melting Sky, which dispels most of my fears regarding the band’s direction by providing an album that brings back the heavy without sacrificing its progressive bent.
Opening track “Forever To Burn” kicks off the proceedings in rousing fashion, introducing the album with a blast of drums and tremolo picked guitars, which morph into a fundamentally crushing riff-fest that chugs and surges over some pounding double bass work. The vocals jump in at breakneck speed, hammering listeners with a guttural death metal delivery that adds extra weight to an already mammoth opening track. Tastefully, as is the case throughout the rest of the album, the track’s more progressive and atmospheric elements shine through as a compliment to the maelstrom, rather than seeming to be the focal point of the track. While muscling through several beefy guitar passages, gentler melodies intertwine themselves with the track’s heavier helix, giving the music a feel of variation while never feeling unfocused or losing its menacing edge. The track maintains cohesion all the way through its closing seconds, as the band repeat their opening riffs, giving the track an overall thematic uniformity that many bands playing this style of music miss. With this opening track, the band have struck a fine balance between heavy lifting and melodic release, allowing the mixture to breathe through a clear and smooth production job. It’s an incredibly diverse and satisfying opening salvo.
Thankfully, this approach remains intact throughout the record. The album’s title track brings plenty of heft, while letting the guitars ebb and flow outside of the propulsive chugging. Adding another positive attribute to this record, the songs rarely feel too much of anything. The more rhythmic passages rarely overstay their welcome, as ripping solos and more melodic passages almost always jump in to provide some sonic relief from the beat-down. “In Moonlight I Am Reborn” continues along this trajectory, as do frankly most other tracks on the record. “Blood of the Beggar” highlights the band’s more technical chops with its scathing intro, while “The Old Man in the Meadow” brings out a variation on a more traditional heavy metal theme, highlighting the band’s most progressive stylings throughout. Vocals don’t make an appearance until about halfway through the track, allowing the band’s excellent instrumental work to ring loud and clear. “The Djinn”, potentially the albums most progressively leaning track, vacillates between tinkling, shimmering, ethereal guitar work and utterly nasty blasting. It’s a wonderful mix of elements that make for an incredibly enjoyable listening experience.
Course correction can be a difficult thing, in general. While not every portion of Inanimate Existence’s last record could be considered unsavory, it most certainly left much to be desired. Rather than throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, the band instead incorporated some of their more progressive and forward-thinking musical structures into a much heavier and far more accessible package, making for some of the most technically adept, sonically pleasing, and generally thrilling music of the band’s career. While it will take time to digest, I think this may become the band’s crowning achievement up to this point, and I am once again excited about Inanimate Existence’s potential and future.
Underneath a Melting Sky is being released by The Artisan Era on August 25th and can be pre-ordered here.