Time itself is the only true gravitational force that the status quo beyond the philosopher or the mystic is forced to feel within their lifespan. The warning that ‘life is short’ becomes meaningless noise to those living in the denial of ‘the moment’ and that frailty becomes increasingly easy to shatter with age. It is inescapable, though, as the body and especially the mind begin to slowly chip away during quiet moments of reflection. The solipsism of youth combined with the weight of passing time creates a wild urgency that leads to great art, music and work that forces the nascent ego out from its womb of security. From there it is all downhill as the pupae cracks open, the go dries and the wings resultant reveal a limitation, a new gravity insisting that with every flap a dying battery has spent one of only thousands of movements necessary for life. Many of us slowly become great throbbing brains within jars (bodies) that function only to subsist or make good upon old goals before time began slicing away at the possibilities. Others fight vehemently against dulled eyes, ears, and softening bodies operating entirely out of defiance until being swatted against the great bay window of life often enough to become crippled or settled in. California based technical/progressive death metal trio Inanimate Existence project self-actualization as intensely tied to the fragile human acceptance of mortality. Wired to a great clockwork machine and ticking for an indeterminate and largely uncontrolled amount of time, the human machine so feebly stumbles upon meaning in isolation and there ‘Clockwork’ posits the gamut of existential thought on a quest for a meaningful path forward.
Key members Cameron Porras (vocals, guitars) and Ron Casey (drums) paired up after playing on Flesh Consumed‘s second album ‘Ecliptic Dimensions of Suffering’ in 2010. After three fairly well received full-lengths with Unique Leader Records it’d appear that their third album ‘Calling From a Dream’ (2016) had reached a personal limit for flourish and far-reaching progressive metal pomp. Growth between albums meant going through several line-up changes across their first three Inanimate Existence records but the right fit would appear to be a trio that has included bassist Ron Casey since 2016. One could easily argue that core trio have done loftier and more impressive work than the band had managed as a quintet and I’d immediately point towards the success of ‘Underneath a Melting Sky’ (2017) to back that up. ‘Clockwork’ is certainly a follow-up to that previous album but not such an iteration. In fact it is more of a step towards their own stylized sound than we’d seen them take in 2017. The gist of that progression can be seen at a casual distance as decreasing extraneous elements (keyboards, choirs etc.) and increasing compositional dexterity.
Stripped of crunching and muscular chugging tech-death guitar noise Inanimate Existence achieve a Cynic-esque presence that fits more comfortably next to Augury, Obscura or more recent Beyond Creation records as opposed to their earlier work that’d align closer with groups like later Decrepit Birth, Continuum or Arkaik. It becomes difficult to compare ‘Clockwork’ from that point on because it so heavily features its own sort of fusion-esque lead guitar presence that functions as atmospheric placement, rhythmic counterpoint, and directional device while often managing all three roles at once through several layers. The use of concurrent atmospheric guitar work along with fairly brutal rhythm attack creates a hallucinatory stereoscopic experience that feels multi-directional with some great constancy. This approach will likely consume much of the listeners attention span across several listens and it’d seem that trippily engineered sound funnels the ear towards those many bends, twists, and spikes of celestially scaling leads that dominate the experience. That’d be my main criticism of the listening experience, that it may be a fine balance between the tech-death sci-fi side of things and the fusion-oriented progressive death metal spectrum but it all bleeds together into a series of runs, any one song chosen at random can communicate much of the ‘range’ of the entire album. That doesn’t mean it is a step back from the spectacle of ‘Underneath a Melting Sky’, but a record with some tunnel vision for its method.
What saves the experience from the ‘almost there’ bin this month largely comes from the rhythmic value of ‘Clockwork’ as Inanimate Existence may be writing space-faring progressive death metal but they’ve not lost the fire of that previous record. The grinding major progression of “Apophenia” is an immediate standout though the verse riffs feel familiar and repeat in slight variation on “Solitude”. The third single from the album “Desert” is where I began to fully buy into ‘Clockwork’ as the fifth album from the band as it feels entirely mature, brutal and incredibly intricate in its atmospheric weave. In the wrong hands this sort of track could be bungled and strange (see: Fallujah‘s latest) but at some point it is that editorial restraint that Inanimate Existence practice that keeps their otherwise outrageously technical and esoteric sound from becoming bizarrely inedible. The vocals appear to be traded off at times between Bradley and Porras and though their registers match, the slightly more guttural Bradley tends to strike deepest. No djent or pandering moshable chug infects the experience and that they’re ‘above’ those sort of metalcore-isms is probably why I’ve continued to prefer Inanimate Existence over most any other technical/progressive death metal band since hearing their previous album.
This step towards greater streamlining, bigger concept, and an increasingly focused tight-knit unit finds ‘Clockwork’ riding high up to, or above, par with Inanimate Existence‘s finest work. Though it’ll be most effective as focused listening this fifth album from the band becomes a bit of a storm within a casual listen and for my own tastes this speaks to its versatile presentation and deeply thoughtful compositions. Highly recommended, as I believe it’ll have some larger appeal to folks typically turned off by progressive and technical death metal’s tendency to over-share ideas. For preview I would suggest the duo of “Apophenia” and “Desert” as these are the strongest tracks from my perspective along with “Ocean” for its melodramatic unfolding.
Away into nothingness. 4.0/5.0
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