There’s got to be something in the water over in the Bay Area of California, because there’s been an inordinate amount of insane death metal coming out of here for well over a decade now. Inanimate Existence may not be household names in the scene, but they’ve also been one of the more exciting new artists to emerge on Unique Leader’s massive roster since 2010. Though their debut was a little rough around the edges, 2014’s criminally overlooked A Never Ending Cycle of Atonement was one of the finest examples of the genre that year. While staying within the confines that listeners would come to expect from the record label they’re with, Inanimate Existence’s dizzying song structures, unorthodox harmonic ideas and occasional forays into cleaner/more experimental territory have made them a band to really keep an eye on. Now with their third LP, they’re more determined than ever to separate themselves from the pack. Calling From A Dream is just as ambitious of a record as their previous release, but it’s not without its own slip-ups and pitfalls.
Those who are already familiar with the band’s two singles from 2014, “The Rune of Destruction” and “Staring Through Fire,” may be able to predict where things are headed on Calling From A Dream. Both of these tracks packed in plenty of blast-happy riffing, at least one massive breakdown and some guest female vocals to add in some much-needed contrast. This record basically has taken this formula and crafted an entire album around said contrast, as practically every track on here packs in at least verse or lyrical aside from guest vocalist Adrianna Tentori. And much like these vocal spots, the album as a whole feels like it takes a little of time to get settled and really figure itself out. The opening title track and “The Arcane Crystal” are actually the two weakest tracks on the record mostly due to the fact that Tentori’s melodic choices don’t feel like they suit the material supporting it and even feel occasionally flat. Luckily, this seems to only last for a bit, and the opening lines of lyrics are brought back again in the closing track “Burial At Sea” with a much more cohesive and triumphant feeling to them.
From an overall musical standpoint, Calling From A Dream feels much more straightforward and on-the-nose than A Never Ending Cycle of Atonement, but that’s not to say this record is completely hook-laden. Instead, Inanimate Existence have decided to place a much heavier emphasis on grooves and breakdowns than before. There’s at least one mosh-friendly moment in each of the album’s nine tracks, something that definitely wasn’t nearly this pervasive two years ago. It’s an understandable approach considering the band has begun to play more and more live and how unbelievably dense some of their older songs have been, but it may cause a few tech-death geeks out there to shake their heads in disapproval. This album may be much more mid-tempo as a whole, but there are still plenty of head-scratching guitar solos and unexpected twists to warrant multiple listens. Plus, it’s hard to not pump your fists and headbang to the intro of “Beneath the Mist.”
Make no mistake, guitarists Joel Guernsey and Cameron Porras are still kicking out plenty of absolutely alien leads and monstrous riffs to back them up. There’s still plenty of brain-warping mayhem like in the guitar solo to “Shore of the Rising Shadows,” but these two have also begun to stray away from the genre’s uber-minor key trappings and actually pump out some genuinely uplifting and happy-sounding moments too. Both “Falling Into Malace” and “Upon Whiling Winds” have moments that’d almost feel right at home on a power metal record, something you couldn’t exactly say about most of the band’s peers. These all may sound like drastic changes on the surface, but the band hasn’t completely abandoned their past. They have just found new avenues to explore.
As a whole, Calling From A Dream is an enjoyable (albeit a bit confusing) album that may take a bit of time to settle in with already-established fans of the band. There’s still plenty of time-changes, tremolo-picked riffs to windmill your hair to, and general brutality. “Pulse of the Mountains” is without a doubt one of the best tracks the band has now. There’s still plenty of guitar solos and progressive tendencies, but the album does sometimes get way too far ahead of itself. The flutes simply don’t fit the vibe of the record and things can definitely start to sound way to close to bands like Fallujah and The Faceless, but it’s still an impressive piece of work that’s worth checking out. Inanimate Existence isn’t resting on their laurels and wanting to never write the same album twice, and it will be very interesting to see how the band evolves out of this current incarnation that’s much more focused on sounding cinematic and narrative-based than ever before.