Consistently intense, technically proficient, and experimental in terms of both metaphysically charged lyricism and modern death metal mutations the Inanimate Existence sound was entirely undecided yet noteworthy in the realm of modern technical and progressive death metal as they stumbled through various line-ups over the course of their first three albums for the good folks at Unique Leader between 2011 and 2016. Their basal line-up had been comprised of folks who’d done solid work in Brain Drill, Flesh Consumed and lesser known Desecrion and through the course of their collective transformation, peaking with the weirding prog-metal experiment of ‘Calling From a Dream‘ (2016), they’d found the core trio that was right for the path forward as other key members sharded off into Ominous Ruin or various other groups along the way. I skim past that part of the band’s development a bit because it is all formative stuff which feels manufactured and overwrought compared to what came next. Plus I kinda want to make up for my kinda asshole review of ‘Underneath a Melting Sky‘ (2017) where I don’t believe I’d conveyed just exactly how much of a nowadays tech-death brilliancy it’d been at the time and a bit of a flagship for The Artisan Era imprint as they’d begin picking up major steam that year.

The major pitch for this band might not make sense if you are a die-hard head for technical and progressive death metal of the brutal sort since I gotta say there are very, very few bands whom justify their technical ability to play like a beast with musically strong ideas, appreciable atmosphere and thematically sound albumcraft. If we consider the broader influence of groups like Decrepit Birth, Spawn of Possession and even Obscura in this regard the road forward is narrowly achieved in the actual spirit of death metal, only rarely landing by way of the hands and minds of groups like Inanimate Existence whom have developed their own signature sound beyond 2016 within a trilogy of deeply introspective full-lengths, each meeting a high standard of virtuosic performance and songcraft while presenting a viable reason for such flair by way of engrossing experiential brutality.

Whereas ‘Underneath a Melting Sky‘ was all about bombast, expansive and psychedelic coloration of grand forms their follow-up as an even more tightly knit trio ‘Clockwork‘ (2019) and its treatise on absurdism made for a decidedly introverted, deeply intricate study of rhythmic interplay and had more-or-less founded the distinct atmospheric voice of the band in its kaleidoscopic wilderness. The “tunnel vision” of creation witnessed on that album turned out to be thematic in a sense and turns out to be less of a detractor than I’d found it to be in review of the record. So, where to go with it next? ‘The Masquerade‘ answers said tunnel vision, appreciates the aforementioned bombast and fuses them into a most dynamic third curl of their triskelion, a feat I’d recommend as their best release to date in terms of the listening experience and greater capture of their many-faceted and unique style of progressive tech-death.

There is an intense misery or, ponderous existential captivity to the narrative style which Inanimate Existence have threaded into their work since 2016 and though they aren’t miserable and dead serious in person their music tends to read as being stranded in deep thought rather than butchering like a maniac or I dunno, fucking snooty. Not really fucking around or, trying to get too cute with the gimmicky shit we find in a lot of tech-death/core today continues both help the band stand out while also getting a few “Well, this is very normal!” reactions from kids who are in to deep and well, the fact that their sound reads as unique and distinctly modern is a testament to their continued work as a trio. Anyhow, this core brooding moodiness felt is less persistently overwhelming on ‘The Masquerade‘ compared to ‘Clockwork‘, presenting an extension of what they’d developed on that album which now attempts to balance their nightmarish progressive elements with harder-beaten brutality. The production values have clarified but not changed drastically since 2017 for the band as they continue to gel exactingly with the work of Zack Ohren, whom handles this proggier side of the band well without losing the depth of ‘Clockwork‘.

The greater listening experience takes a journey, tripping on something fantastic as it goes places and remembers to bookmark its presentation with representative pieces. Introducing the event and Inanimate Existence‘s signature sound with “Endless Waves” before ramping their gig up with increasingly involved pieces throughout the length of Side A, the regal and stately roll of the title track gives way to clear standout piece and video/single in “Into the Underworld“, a descent emphasized by ominous keyboards and increasingly brutal battery as it peaks. Whereas the previous album wallowed, mused hard on the spectacle at hand we are getting the ride without any of the residue as the first half of ‘The Masquerade‘ blazes past with an easier listen, and despite being unhealthily packed with ideas.

Kicking into Side B we land on my favorite track among the lot with “Wandering White Hills” thanks to its snappy bass whorls in its verse runs and its slower, contemplative break in the middle of the piece, kind of a weirdly chuggy piece for me to be editor’s picking but it’d consistently caught me ear with each listen and gave pause. The first single/music video from the album, “Return to the Dream“, is likewise well picked for its showcase of technique and representative placement on the album, though the vid itself is goofy the lead at the end smokes and I think Side B has some of the best stuff from bassist/co-vocalist Scott Bradley who’d landed my favorite performances on (again) the previous album. The album only goes harder from there, ending with the fastest and hottest peak on the thing, that’ll be yours to dig into but I’d loved how it all came together with a real apex provided by “Ending the Ritual”.

It is a good sign that I am still musing over the two previous albums while taking in the greater feat of ‘The Masquerade‘, though the central message of the album gets a bit garbled when we start to see it as the keystone of a trilogy rather than a singular work in its own right. That separation comes when we look at the lyrical focus on this one, which the title should hint at. The greater journey felt here is a complex but natural response to isolation and the clarity achieved in identifying the wolves in sheep’s clothing, daemon in a savior’s mask surrounding the weak and impressionable, with tribalistic manipulation representing a rust upon the psyche of so many. The greater effect is the soul of the speaker detesting itself, being slowly dragged down to some manner of hell and transformed into a worse person and well, you can extrapolate the spark and intended impact of these ideas well enough on your own. I’d enjoyed the sensation of this descent, the misery of entrapment and dissolving will fitting well with Inanimate Existence‘s crystalline yet fiery prog-death style.

So, when I kinda cut tech-death outta mind back in 2011 or so it was because it was too often all about selling guitars, watching artists competing for tech-god status on fuckin’ YouTube without putting in the work in terms of making music that was valuable beyond showcasing their overpriced gear. I get it, go where the money is dickhead, but when I pick up a record like this it does a lot of good in dissolving the personal nihil felt in appreciating a style of music that’d ceased to carry any purpose or personalized, transcendent narrative at its apex. Well, ‘The Masquerade‘ is yet another argument from this Bay Area band that more and more musicians are making good use of their giant brained aptitudes to make fascinating and entertaining music with some deep enough meaning attached. At the moment ‘Clockwork‘ is my favorite work of theirs due to spending so much time with it over the last two years but there’ll be no denying ‘The Masquerade‘ is seat as Inanimate Existence‘s peak accomplishment overall. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (88/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Masquerade
LABEL(S):The Artisan Era
RELEASE DATE:June 10th, 2022

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