Released: 2014, Unique Leader Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
You certainly can’t just this book – or album – by its cover. Northern California quintet Inanimate Existence’s logo smacks of black metal, and the soft blue-hued, Rivendell-like artwork of their second album is sure to get some Tolkien-esque power metal nerds all hot and bothered.
Inside, however, A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement offers a tumultuous barrage of over-the-top technical death metal. And while it is steeped in the sort of conceptual aspirations power metal aficionados might appreciate, the band deliver it in a swirling mass of brutality they most certainly will not. And the brash, clean production, intricate arrangements, instrumental showmanship and spiritually minded, Tibetan Buddhism-inspired lyrical conceits – you can check out the fully fleshed out storyline behind it on the band's Facebook page, it's a wild one - are the very antithesis of “black” metal.
Atonement is an ambitious, yet surprisingly taut effort that manages to cram an awful lot - a tangle of tempo changes, dueling vocals and guitars, loads of dive-bombing, Morbid Angel-like solos, a smattering of unconventional instrumentation [flute, harp, bongos!] and female vocal accents, and fits of progressive twiddling - into a 44-minute concept album that still sounds complete and coherent. While it certainly is overblown at times, as on “Out of Body Experience's” dizzying, 9:21 prog-soaked workout, Atonement very easily could have gotten bogged down and bloated had the band been more indulgent and less self-aware.
Instead, there is an inviting flow to the album as the brisk, yet determined pacing of drummer Ron Casey keeps things moving right along, and helps guide the band through the myriad twists and turns Atonement takes on its mystical metal journey. And despite the thematic nature of the material, there are actual songs here, not mere movements in an otherwise ungainly whole.
The ambient jazz intro for the otherwise churning “Staring Through Fire,” the savage groove on “The Rune of Destruction” and “The Catacomb of Mirrors” and the somewhat restrained – and thankfully rather brief - instrumental “Dueling Shadows” that closes Atonement add texture and offer something to grab onto. And though the concept here may be hard to grasp, it’s not like anything you've seen or heard before. And when was the last time you could say that about a death metal album?