Inanimate Existence have had one hell of a journey. They drew widespread acclaim without really managing to take off following their first two records, 2011’s Liberation Through Healing and 2014’s A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement. They made a name for themselves with their intricate compositions, labyrinthine riffs, ability to neatly integrate unexpected elements such as female vocals and wind instruments, and a sharp technicality to match their sheer brutality. Oh, and having the hardest hitting tremolos in the game didn’t hurt either. Atonement, in particular, was incredible, so it’s regrettable that its impact was buried amid a veritable avalanche of fantastic, technically inclined death metal releases in 2014.
2014 saw the likes of The Contortionist, Archspire, Black Crown Initiate, Job for a Cowboy and, of course, Fallujah releasing albums to much fanfare. Looking back it was The Flesh Prevails which both garnered the most acclaim and had the most lasting impact of those releases. It certainly seemed to impact upon Inanimate Existence’s approach to writing, at least to an outsider, with 2016’s Calling From a Dream marking a stark shift towards a Fallujah-adjacent direction. Yet, the near-permanent adoption of clean female vocals, heightened melodic sensibilities and a more progressive direction drew a decidedly mixed response, with many feeling that the band had fallen flat. 2017’s excellent Underneath a Melting Sky went some way to correcting this by abandoning experiments which hadn’t worked, persisting with the more progressive tendencies that did and adopting sharper songwriting which played to the band’s strengths. Two years later here we are, staring at the cover of Clockwork, wondering what we’re in store for. A return to the glory days? Another misstep? Or a continuation of where they left off with …Melting Sky.
Clockwork gets away to a blistering start with the outstanding one-two punch of the title track and “Voyager”. “Clockwork” opens with rapid-fire volleys of Obscura-esque riffwork, which is high praise from this writer, interspersed with explosive solos and leads. Throughout the track we encounter enchanting ambient guitar lines at the back of the mix and these tones come to the forefront during the clean break in the song’s midsection. Those ambient guitars are a common feature throughout the record and they greatly smooth the transition between hard-hitting death metal riffs and the cleaner, more melodic sections. They help contextualise these sonic shifts, ensuring that they can surprise the listener without feeling jarring or out of place. The choice of tone in the solos and more melodic moments is familiar yet difficult to pinpoint – almost sounding like Fallujah’s leads through a middle-eastern lens. “Voyager” then ticks along nicely for the best part of 3 minutes before bringing out the sledgehammer and ripping its surroundings to shreds with savage tremolo riffs. Driving chugs and further Obscura influences close the track on a high – and at this point it’s worth mentioning that the drums have been going hell for leather most of the way through.
The rest of the record tends to follow a similar structure, with tracks such as “Apophenia” and “Desert” leaning harder into the melodic, more progressive elements whilst songs such as “Diagnosis” showcase the band’s death metal foundations. The way Inanimate Existence have learned to fuse these aspects of their sound is impressive, and a vast improvement from the nadir of Calling From a Dream. The production is clear and each instrument is clearly audible, with the drums hitting hard, the guitars crisp and the bass nice and high in the mix. Unfortunately, the record begins to lose steam as it heads towards its middle as songs begin blending into one another. The penultimate “Ocean” certainly wakes the listener from their stupor though, proving to be a highlight. The beginning boasts furious tremolo riffs beneath a beautiful lead melody and enthralling solos, but it’s the middle section which delivers a neat surprise. Beautiful bass lines team with heartfelt strings to add a new element to a record crying out for just such a thing. It’s moments like these that made their first two records stand out from the pack and it’s a shame they don’t do it more often because they’re damned good at integrating such sounds into their music.
At the beginning of this review we weren’t sure what to expect from this record. Clockwork isn’t going to be the release which catapults them to the forefront of modern death metal the way A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement should have. But nor is it a sign of decline – it is a continuation of the solid foundation they built for themselves in Underneath a Melting Sky. They’ve delivered a rock solid record which will satisfy their fans, put to rest any doubts about their direction and set themselves up nicely for their future direction – whatever that may be.
Clockwork is available May 10 via The Artisan Era.