Advice is a tricky thing, really. I try to give only when asked1 and take only what’s given freely2, but the general advice economy moves much faster than I like to. So instead of giving advice, I prefer to just point out issues and have people come up with their own solutions. This works well when you’re reviewing music since most of the job is explaining why that music isn’t as good as it could be. A case in point would be the last album from Inanimate Existence, A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement, an album about which I had many complaints; it was too loud, the riffing was unfocused, and the progressive strengths of the band were sidelined in favor of said riffing, which greatly imperiled the songs. Well, it’s that time again, and Calling From a Dream is the band’s chance to right the wrongs and regain the fickle approval of Kronos. And to my shock and surprise, they actually did.
By far the biggest change in Inanimate Existence‘s sound is the inclusion of guest singer Adrianna Tentori’s clean vocals. Right off the bat, “Calling From a Dream” establishes her presence with a line that’s recapitulated at the very end of the album – an excellent flourish in a concept album about star-crossed lovers… I think. There’s a lot going on here lyrically, and though I’m sure bigger prog fans than I will pay more attention to the album’s storytelling, it’s only one facet of a remarkably careful and complete package.
Full of Fallujah-inspired leads that fill out a mystic and fantastical atmosphere, Calling From a Dream doesn’t sound like anything else, really. The closest comparison I can draw would be Epica if they decided to be a tech-death band and did a damn fine job of it. The symphonic metal pillars of storytelling and melodrama are captured perfectly but expressed through thoughtful arrangements and evocative guitar work rather than straightforward bombast and keyboard layers. “Shore of Rising Shadows” relies on chuggy riffs, but the smooth guitar tone and atmosphere of the song justify their use. Instead of blasting out solos and chuggy but faceless riffs, the band uses the trappings of technical metal as building blocks; this isn’t a flashy album, though there are some shreddy licks indeed, but for the most part it’s complex in a very appropriate way.
The latter half of the album is stacked with the very best songs, and the band saves their most potent ideas for “Beneath the Mist” and “Burial at Sea.” The former opens with a plodding riff and then gives Tentori a moment of her own before charging into a full-on assault in the style of The Flesh Prevails. Though a couple of intermediate riffs in the song feel a bit stale, they’re squashed in to push the song forward, and when Tentori’s voice returns alone, you’re more than ready for that lead again. Similar melodicism on “Burial at Sea” ends the album on a high note, and at just 35 minutes, it’s a great length.
All of my praise aside though, Calling From a Dream does have a few problems. Looking past how often the band apes Fallujah3, the album is very reliant on mid-paced and chug-heavy riffs, and though the album is quite creative, there are but a few moments that I really thought were great. A few songs like “Burial at Sea” are quite memorable, but a less spectacular A-side keeps this from being an album that really excites me.
Calling From a Dream‘s stylistic shift is hugely effective and if the band continue to make albums that are this solid, they’re sure to land a place somewhere in the modern death metal pantheon. Added to the much richer and more dynamic production that Zack Ohren achieved on this record, it’s a huge step forward from A Never Ending Cycle of Atonement, and it just goes to show: Kronos knows what Kronos likes. And he likes this album.