Inanimate Existence_A Neverending CycleHey gang, it’s time to play a game. A fun game – but also a dangerous one, so make sure you’re qualified for it. In order to play you’ll need a few things: a bucket, a glass, a strong liver, and a large amount of (ideally) a slightly less strong drink. That’s right, we’re about to engage in every tech-death nerd’s plastering procedure: the Unique Leader Records drinking game!

Here are the rules; I’m going to review an upcoming album from Unique Leader, and every time a Unique Leader trope appears, you take a shot. For those of you not familiar with Unique Leader Records (shame on you), or for that matter, alcohol, I have provided both directions as to when to drink, and directions to place the aforementioned bucket nearby you for when you lose. Let’s begin.

Inanimate Existence’s (If I hadn’t checked, I would swear up and down that’s a Rings of Saturn song. Open your bottle) upcoming second record had been flying under my radar until our dear Steel Druhm alerted me of its imminent ingress. Being a dedicated and documented death metal devotee, I of course deigned to dive directly into the disc. A Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement (pour a drink) is the sophomore offering from this California (Drink) based tech/prog death metal act, which formed in 2012 (Drink) and released their first album, Liberation Through Hearing the same year, solidifying their place in Unique Leader’s highly diverse family of artists. Now they’re out to win some bread for their elders.

AInanimate Existence_2014 Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement starts out a bit oddly – opener “Omni Padme Um” (or, according to the files I recieved, “Intro” [an album that I got from Unique Leader didn’t have any metadata – I take a drink, you’re invited to join me]) boasts both clarinet and flute as melody-carriers along a fantasy-laden instrumental, which is immediately followed by the crushing riffing of “Omen.” There’s a lot of brutal tech riffing to be had on this album and “Omen” immediately pushes forward with some of the heaviest this outing has to offer. It’s confusing how these songs are supposed to fit together until around the three-minute mark, when out of nowhere, a wild bassline appears. The lead guitar responds with a solo and it’s very effective, at which point one begins to realize what this band really excels at.

The realization continues with “Bioluminescent Photophores,” which opens with yet more loud, heavily distorted stop-and-go riffing and a mid-song breakdown (Drink), but once again gets interesting a little past the halfway mark. After a few impressive guitar licks, a quiet, foggy guitar drifts above an equally intriguing bongo line for just a moment before the band kicks back in to finish off an encapsulating odd-timed solo section. The subsequent tracks follow suit; crushing riffs that race along without making much impact (drink) sandwich some strange solo or fantasy-laden melodic break with unconventional instrumentation (i.e. female vocals, a harp) to gawk at. It’s as if The Kennedy Veil started listening to Dream Theater and reading Tolkien.

Of course, in the long standing tradition of adventurous strangeness, it’s a bit hit-or-miss. “the Catacomb of Mirrors” and “Staring Through Fire” both fall short of earlier tracks and overstay their welcome, clocking in at around 14 minutes combined. Long song length is a theme throughout the album, but, in shocking contrast to prog tradition, it’s not the melodic or experimental bits which are drawn out, it’s the actual metal riffing. The riffing problem is twofold: first; the actual parts are complex, but also tend towards the unmemorable, and there’s a whole lot of them, and second; they sound quite bad.

InanimateExistence-2014aAnd that’s because this album is (drink, preemptively) ridiculously brickwalled, clocking in at DR 3. Opening up any one of these songs in Audacity leads to one being stared down by two large blue rectangles. A Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement’s material obviously doesn’t call for this level of loudness, but because of it, even the subtle, melodic passages scream out of headphones as if each listening will be their last. Somehow the guitar tone has been saved from absolute destruction, but only through conversion into a cyborg-like state of computerization (drink). Rings of Saturn can get away with this shit because sounding overproduced and computerized is their shtick, but please, other bands need a shot at sounding like actual musicians.

And so here I’m left with a talented band with cool ideas, good chops, and a decent stylistic direction that has written and performed a pretty cool album – one that I’d give a 3.5 or 4.0 rating to. Upon receiving this album for mastering, a pale man in Oakland pushed every single switch on his limiter as far away from himself as he could and then spent the rest of his tenure on the project trying to make the riffs sound like any sort of instrument again. And someone paid him good money to do that. I honestly like Unique Leader for being a haven of interesting death metal, and I really like a lot of bands on this label. They definitely have an ear for talent (this is, after all, the label that signed Psycroptic and put out Scepter of The Ancients, the best tech death album of the last decade) and a good lineup, but this brickwalling cliché that either Unique Leader or their bands (or both) keep pushing has gone way too far. Even though this one label’s loudness is just a microcosm of the greater landscape of overdone metal production, it’s disappointing when I’m not even surprised that I can’t listen to this diverse and interesting album at anywhere above half volume. Pull that bucket in close. Drink again.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 3  |  Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Unique Leader
Release Dates: Out Worldwide on 06.24.2014

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  • Grymm

    A DR3.

    It finally happened… a Dynamic Range average of fucking 3.

    • And you thought 4 was as low as it would go, didn’t ya?

      • Grymm

        I mean, I knew it would be possible, but I expected it to be at the hands of Nergal.

        • Excentric_1307

          I’m pretty sure the loudness carnage will only end at DR0.

  • Gein

    I’ve just come to accept the production as normal for modern metal. It’s really fucking loud, but so is everything else these days. At this point if your volume isn’t at 75-50% at all times you’re probably deaf.

    Although I gotta say, as a new reader, it does seem a little pretentious to harp on the dynamic range in the review (and in the comment section @, where I found this site). It’s like, “Hey everybody we’re super smart for opening up Audacity!” Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but most people lack that frame of reference so it just sounds like you’re trying to impress us with some technical jargon.

    Solid review otherwise though! Pretty much agree with ya, although I’d probably give it a 3.5 personally. I hate tech death nowadays, but something about this is worth listening to even with its terrible, albeit industry standard, production.

    • I think you may be missing the point. We (and Metal-Fi) harp on dynamic range and include it in our reviews to draw attention to a real problem in the production protocols for the genre we love. We hope to draw more attention to the sound shortcomings until hopefully, the bands and the labels get the hint that we want albums that actually sound good.
      Call it pretentious, but I for one don’t want to pay for albums that sound like shit or hear quality material derailed by half ass productions jobs.

      • Gein

        Trust me my man I’m in the same boat as you. I’m a huge production snob. I’ve missed out on so much great music because of it and conversely have listened to generic, mediocre music just because the production is so on point. There’s nothing wrong with ragging on a bad production job, but I just kinda get that pretentious vibe from some of the reviews and the comment on that site for talking about the number and all that. It reminds me of those advertisements where they just shove a bunch of jargon down your throat with some numbers and expect us to be impressed. I feel like just calling it a loud, overproduced piece of shit accomplishes the same thing.

        I don’t think your ‘movement’ will work, but it’s a valiant effort. I think the majority of consumers just don’t give a shit about production, which is pretty disappointing.

        Also I’m admittedly just being a cynical, nitpicky asshole so I don’t mean to offend or anything :P

        • Kalsten

          We, the readers of AMG, are not “the majority of consumers”.

        • Grymm

          I don’t see this so much as a ‘movement’ as it is the fact that we, as reviewers and longtime fans of metal music, are sick and tired of our favorite genre getting destroyed by hackneyed overproduction and suffocating mastering jobs.

          And once again, I’ll point out Vainaja’s debut as a point of reference. On CD or MP3, the music is impressive, but the production just diminishes the power. On vinyl, though, this album absolutely destroys musically and sonically due to its fuller-sounding production and mastering. Had the digital copy I received possessed THIS mix, my score would’ve been a 4.5 or even a 5.0 instead of the 4.0 it received.

          You see where I’m getting at? It’s not pretentiousness. It’s saying, quite simply, that we’ve had enough of loudness in the production of our favorite music.

        • Kronos

          This album in particular (because it’s the lowest DR score we’ve seen here) I chose to martyr for the cause of good production, so I understand your feeling that we harp on DR too much, but if you read around a little more, you’ll find we usually don’t devote this much time to it. Thanks for sharing your views, it’s good to hear from readers.

        • Well, since you’re a new reader you wouldn’t know that this is a topic that has been previously explained at detail before in the site, in many features by AMG himself and the Metal-fi guys, but even those would be just an introduction to the subject, maybe pushing the readers to get interested in this because it affects us all. While you have a point in saying that calling it just an overproduced, overcompressed POS gets the same idea, I personally feel it would be a disservice to the readers and even the band or its promoters if the author didn’t took the time to support his point of considering the DR rating a valuable reference. I have seen discussions about DR being meaningless to musicians, producers and engineers mostly to defend their own releases just by essentially saying that it’s good enough to their ears so it should be good enough to the general populace. But if people as AMG and others start using DR rating as a reference it maybe will get enough people to notice and care. It may be a quixotic quest but I, as a consumer, am glad that the writers here are onboard.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    DR3 wow, how low can this go before it stops sounding like music. To me the thing thats strange here is the genre. it’s hard to see in this case how a brick walled production is going to bring you new fans. I kind of get it with crap like Avenged Seven Fold or Metallica where sounding louder on radio is about the extent of the bands musical ambition, but tech death… where your (very limited pool of) fans are music nerds, I just don’t understand.

    • It has been a problem that sadly is really generalized in almost the whole industry. Another tech death release that suffers from it is Inferi’s latest with a DR4. It’s sad because the music is great but I really can’t listen to it more than once at a time even if I like it because my ears get exhausted. Artificial brain’s on the other hand has a decent DR8. Guess which one I tend to listen more.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        yep Im still loving Artificial Brain. It and the Triptykon records are my favourites so far this year.
        Im still getting into the Inferi release, such over the top and clever speed freak arrangements its hard not to love. But yeah your right, its like a trumpet blast in the face which limits the enjoyment somewhat.

      • Kronos

        Artificial brain sounds great because Colin Marston produced it. The man is a fucking god, everything he touches sounds perfect.

        • He works like a god for sure. He’s on a lot of bands that had really impressed me over the years too.

    • Rob Turnbull

      Funny you should mention Avenged Sevenfold, as their latest album sits at DR10 average (that’s the CD, the vinyl is higher). Whatever you think of the music, the album sounds great because of it.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Ha caught out in an assumption!
        I had Hail to the King on CD (australian release) thought it was one the worst sounding records I’d heard in a long time, so timid and pedestrian.
        Taste trumps production in the end I guess

  • El-Cyanide

    I’d like to add here that I am really enjoying this album, but that’s where it ends though. I bought the digital download from the bands BigCartel page, and the god damn mp3’s don’t have any metatags and there is no album artwork. I could cope with that, but the mp3 encoding is at 160kpbs, what the fucking fuck, no wonder it looks so buggered in Audacity. It’s an absolute crime to take someone’s money and provide such terrible quality files in return. This is why piracy is winning.

    Seriously though, it’s a great album. But also seriously, wtf Unique Leader, amateur.

    • The Lascivious Snape

      I was eyeing that download from BigCartel myself, so thanks for the heads up. An official download without meta data or even artwork is just shameful.

      • Kronos

        Stuff from Unique Leader literally never has correct metadata (or, usually, any attempt at having metadata) when I get it. Nice to hear that they give as few shits about their customers as they do about their promo packages.

      • El-Cyanide

        I contacted the band and they sent me lyrics, artwork and lossless .wav files, so I got my music. I still would have liked 320kps mp3’s with meta tags, but it was enough of a win. Apparently the iTunes version should all be correct, but I wouldn’t know and I don’t really like using iTunes to buy music.

        • Kronos

          Nice to hear they’re helpful about it and respond to their fans. I like this band, but the mastering is just awful.

  • How did you know I’m pale?

  • ShittyMcReviewer

    This dude should find a new hobby because his reviews blow.

  • Jsifhcncn

    Thinks Scepter of the Ancients is the best technical death metal album in a decade.