One of the most vivid dreams I ever had came to me several years ago, and I remember it clearly to this day. At the time, I worked as a morning cook in a small post-op healthcare and physical rehabilitation facility. My job was simple: make a couple large batches of some staple breakfast foods, check the patients’ meal tickets for any special dietary requirements, and serve them accordingly. This dream I had was the night before one of those shifts, and came to me right at the edge of sleep; not quite sleeping, but not quite awake. In it, I stood in the small kitchen by the dining room and was serving food to the patients. It was extremely detailed, but that was it; no preamble, no dreamlike oddities, nothing special- just me doing my job. I forced my eyes open after a minute or so, refusing to let my day be bookended by kitchen duty. The dream was very detailed, yes, but it was also one of the most profoundly boring ones I’ve ever experienced.
This, unfortunately, is the same feeling I get from Calling from a Dream, the latest offering from Inanimate Existence. The album’s title and concept promise a strange journey through the world of dreams, an adventure across a hostile mindscape as the soul of the narrator’s deceased lover calls to him from beyond. There’s so much potential for experimentation in a narrative set in the unconscious, so many sounds a band can explore, but it’s squandered here on ideas that have already been done more proficiently by other bands. Great care was taken with a lot of the smaller details of the music, but it feels like the band lost sight of the larger picture in their effort to carve out those details.
Let’s take a look at the title track, which serves as a perfect overture for the album and thus illustrates all of my problems with it. The first thing that’s established is the lover’s motif, built on soothing clean guitars laden with effects and minimal input from the rhythm section. Singer Adrianna Tentori lends her voice as the spirit, and it’s with these sung sections that the first problem appears. I initially thought I simply didn’t like her voice, but it became apparent on repeat listens that my issue is actually with how her voice is used. First off, she doesn’t sit well in the mix, both from an engineering and thematic standpoint. Her voice is the only part of the music that has any dynamics to it; everything else at all times is at an even volume, so Tentori is occasionally buried almost completely or blazes like a sun over the rest of the band. Thematically, she feels too real; whereas everything else has been engineered to have a dreamlike quality, her voice is almost completely organic. I’m usually all for that, but it actually works against the music in this case. For comparison, listen to Tori Letzler’s parts in Fallujah’s “The Void Alone” (from their album Dreamless. Coincidence? You decide). Regardless of how you may feel about the track, there’s no denying that Letzler fits. Her voice has received the same treatment as the rest of the band and therefore blends cohesively with the rest of them.
The second major issue with Tentori’s parts are the melodies. They are rarely presented as a complete idea, wandering aimlessly before resolving at the last second. It feels like they were written on either a guitar or a piano and handed off to her without consideration of how it would sound sung rather than plucked. Perhaps the biggest issue is the placement of these clean sections. They crop up far too frequently, removing any sense of danger presented by the heavier parts of the music. This might seem like a silly complaint, but it ruins the vitally important narrative pace on an album that relies so heavily on the music’s direct interaction with the story for emotional impact. I understand all this might have been done intentionally; the spirit might be more solid in the dreamer’s mind than anything else, her messages might be purposely odd-sounding to reflect the nature of the dream, and she might show up frequently to remind the dreamer that she’s never too far out of reach. These are all really good ideas, but they’re implemented to such an extreme that it ruins the experience, especially the pacing issue; it’s hard to take the protagonist’s battle with a guy in flaming armor seriously (“Pulse of the Mountain’s Heart,” below) when you know that safety is right there.
All of this aside, tech death and progressive death metal relies so heavily on instrumental skill and acuity that these issues could be overlooked if the rest of the music was solid. Unfortunately, it’s not. Most of the leads feel like Fallujah Lite™, relying largely on drawn-out octave-doubled pentatonic scales with tremolo bar dips on each of the downbeats. The riffs have largely been reduced from the clever dances of past albums to djenty chugs and poorly timed breakdowns, both of which are frequently interrupted by the aforementioned clean sections. I’ve never been keen on vocalist Taylor Wientjes’ vocal phrasing, and these bizarre pacing issues serve to highlight that further.
Thankfully, mercifully, it’s not all bad. “The Arcane Crystal” and “Shore of Rising Shadows” retain more than just trace elements of the band’s past sound and make good use of both the clean vocals and synths. Despite the annoying vocal cadences, the lyrics are better than most of their peers. Guitar solos are very tasteful and well-written when they pop up, and when the chugging riffs actually land, they land hard. There are some genuinely skin-crawling moments when they line up with a clean guitar backing and a synth, but all these parts are few and far between. The album as a whole suffers from the same issue as the opening track, illuminated by a handful of bright spots. They are brief discrepancies in the cooking dream, momentarily distracting me from dutifully portioning out bland oatmeal and toast.
I apologize for the wall of text, but Inanimate Existence are one of my favorite tech death bands and it pains me to pick them apart like this. I tried very hard to like this album, but it never resonated with me. Some of you will appreciate the music far more than I did; I already know some of you who do. However, there are too many things that hold this back from its fullest potential, thus earning it: