I love to see a band you can’t quite pin down. I picked up the thread on Inanimate Existence with their sophomore1 effort, A Never Ending Cycle of Atonement, an album which couldn’t decide whether to be brutal or proggy — and was much better at the latter. Then came Calling from a Dream, and a radical redirection towards the band’s strengths. It was concise, melodic, interesting, and above all, memorable, an experiment in storytelling and fantasy that worked remarkably well. Just a year later, the band is back, this time with yet another new direction. Under a Melting Sky is closer to Never Ending than Calling, but it’s entirely its own beast, a technicolor hallucination, born of fantastic landscapes and formidable evils.
With clean vocals nowhere to be found and any temperance gone with them, Under a Melting Sky strikes a brutal but still melodic stance from the outset. “Forever to Burn” does a second-long fake-out towards Focus2 before diving into a lead paired with the liberal use of synth harp. Here, you smell the first whiff of that air of extravagant fantasy that Inanimate Existence have long cultivated. It’s their most distinctive trait for sure, and the band does nothing but capitalize on it, with riffing that’s always a bit unorthodox and a wailing, reverb-laden clean tone that I swear comes from wearing a wizard hat in the studio.
Most of Underneath a Melting Sky‘s songs revolve around a memorable lead which provides a reference point for all sorts of escapades. The title track dispenses a particularly memorable one several times before launching from a subdued bridge into an exuberant marathon of guitar soloing, ranging from shred to harmonized melodeath lead playing. More wailing harmonizations cry out a psychedelic-tinged theme for “In Moonlight I am Reborn,” the album’s shortest and most memorable effort. Not all of the songs here fare quite as well as those two; “Blood of the Beggar” and “The Old Man in the Meadow” are good, but the last three songs of the album feel a bit less adventurous and polished, making for a flat b-side.
Speaking of flat, how’s about this production? I (not altogether unfairly) martyred A Never Ending Cycle of Atonement a few years ago because of its almost unlistenable volume, and found Calling From a Dream just palatable enough to focus mostly on its music. Sadly, I have to fall back on previous criticism with Under a Melting Sky; at thirty-five minutes long, the album is commendably concise, yet its unrelentingly flat dynamics had me checking my watch almost incessantly. It’s not the lowest DR we’ve seen here, and the bitrate of my promo copy isn’t the problem. It’s just that something about the album’s mix and mastering makes the disc an absolute slog. After listening to it a half-dozen times in two days, I found I could never recall much of the album’s second half because I’d simply tuned out after the first fifteen minutes.
Mercurial as Inanimate Existence‘s sound may be, they’re certainly not venturing out far in the production department, and Underneath a Melting Sky‘s very clean, very loud production robs a fairly well-written and of course impeccably performed album of a huge amount of depth and drama. The dynamism this album needs is written right into its songs, but it’s all glossed over in the master, wrinkles, and creases filled in like a fresh coat of wax on the floor. It’s a shiny, clean album, but one which loses the sense of time and place it’s written to project, and without that extra care, it’s all too easy to forget these songs and the adventure pressed into them.