Samsara & Shred: A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement Has Little To Make Up For


Given death metal’s longstanding enmity towards religion in practice and in concept, it’s easy to forget that those contentious cycles of worship have also inspired musicians beyond the obvious premises of spiteful opposition. Specifically, it makes sense that intriguing ideas in metal would be coming from Eastern-inspired religious backgrounds, since infinite cycles of life and death are pretty fucking metal – and, y’know, seeing how Buddhism is the only one of the big disciplines that makes any sense anyways. Tibetan Buddhism was inspiration enough to guide Santa Cruz tech-death up-and-comers Inanimate Existence to a remarkably mature debut in 2012’s Liberation Through Hearing, and the band have now come full circle with their second full-length A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement.

Inanimate Existence are a spiritual death metal band. Their ideas and sounds carry more personality than many of their peers, and it’s due in no small part to the intuitive way they tie motifs into their music.The song structures and specific repetitions make the themes feel embodied, intuitive, natural, though not always so cohesive – or at least not on Liberation Through Hearing, which paired 30 minutes of brutal death metal with half an album of eerie, clean-guitar instrumentals that necessitated a good grip of psychoactives to hold prolonged attention. On A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement, a concept album rooted in Tibetan folk and religious ideas, compositional concepts are rich and fleshed out. For all Liberation‘s focus on liminal states, the new album feels just as indeterminable yet far more cohesive. You hear it in the details as well as the big picture, in the zipper-pull liquidity of sweeps & leads and in the slithering grooves of “The Rune of Destruction” – this album is tight, compact, and even catchy. The guitars control the recurring rhythmic and riff themes (“The Catacomb of Mirrors” to “Staring Through Fire”), facilitating flow like some elaborate network of plumbing.

Riff-wise, Inanimate Existence have flair down to a science. Their self-aware approach means Inanimate Existence never have to worry about their music not sounding heavy enough, and likewise don’t get caught up in showmanship. Inanimate Existence are a dish for those who thought Rivers of Nihil’s The Conscious Seed of Light was a little too straightforward, but that Portals to Canaan was still too much salad and not enough riff. A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement straddles the line between brutality and technicality, riddled with jagged transitions and abrupt tempo shifts. It’s unpredictable but logical, calculated without ever becoming sterile or blunt. And that’s not to imply there’s been any watering down of the aesthetic from Liberation Through Hearing. The album doesn’t instantly engender that noisy, full-bore inaccessibility surrounding bands like Artificial Brain or Auroch, but Inanimate Existence make the album neither comfortable nor too linear. Even accounting for its forays into clean vocals, acoustic guitar, and synth ambience, A Never-Ending Cycle fulfills the face-fuckery I forecast in January, with percussive endurance that grinds like jackhammers.

So where have Inanimate Existence come from the days of Liberation Through Hearing? Well, things are louder at least: A Never-Ending Cycle is an unfortunate victim of the loudness war; it blows to have volume crackles interfering with the mix’s gritty, modernized tightness. Really, where Inanimate Existence show the most progression is in the potential of their still-developing note and rhythm experimentation. The music’s heavy, textured, when all of a sudden, it becomes cathectic, resonant, and unpredictable, whether it’s the Jarzombek runs in the winding 9-minute “Out of Body Experience” or the resolutions in the relatively straightforward “Dueling Shadows.” These compositions aren’t on the same technical scale as, say, something off Colored Sands, but they’re getting there, and a lot of it’s due to the risky shapes and unpredictable patterns the band blends together. It may not be for everyone, but it’s only grown better as the band have matured, and by the end of their next cycle, I fully expect Inanimate Existence to have transcended even further beyond their current levels of compositional karma.

Inanimate Existence’s A Never-Ending Cycle of Atonement comes out today on Unique Leader. Packages are available to order here.

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