REVIEW: AENIMUS – “Dreamcatcher”
Technical and progressive metal for millennials can take a few forms: the typewriter kind with every band clamoring for the top spot maximizing notes per minute, and the lush progressive kind with grandiose arrangements incorporating several elements from various other subgenres into one declaration of musical proficiency. Aenimus decided to make a scrapbook homage to various technical bands on their sophomore record, Dreamcatcher.
Album opener and first single, Before the Eons is straight-up Eclipse era Veil of Maya worship strengthened by a “ether”ial Make Them Suffer-esque chorus and is easily among the band’s strongest songs on this entire record. We are treated to a myriad of spasmic start-and-stop riffs of which Veil are the rightful guardians, but Aenimus have studied the playbook well and execute the djent-tinged riffs with masterful heft. The opening riff of The Ritual channels Michael Keene/Lyle Cooper (of The Faceless’ early albums) with the tremolo picked goodness interspersed with their trademark spacey ringing chords, and yet again, Aenimus successfully convinces us that they can clone a much respected and even longed for style of technical metal from the early 2000s.
It seems clear that with Dreamcatcher, the California foursome has written love letters to their favorite technical death metal and progressive deathcore acts, and homages to more recent successful progressive deathcore bands litter the entire runtime. My Becoming can easily be mistaken for a Shokran or A Higher Place era Born of Osiris song with its arching Phrygian-dominant scale laced Egyptian riffs, down to the sitar-esque string tone overdubs and soaring clean vocals, and The Overlook has an intro riff that has Periphery II written all over it. Guitarists Sean Swafford and Jordan Rush are masters of their brand of musicianship with impressive riffs, impeccable solos, and aggressive chugs; all the staples of a burgeoning progressive deathcore band, and second single The Dark Triad is a perfect example of a near-perfect Aenimus song most reminiscent of their previous record Transcend Reality borrowing heavily from ex-guitarist Brian James’s new technical/progressive death metal juggernaut Fallujah
Drummer Cody Pulliam does not pull any punches and writes rock solid drum arrangements which serve as a great backdrop for the other instruments to shine. In a band filled with technically superlative musicians, special mention must be made in favor of bassist Seth Stone. In a record filled to the brim with guitar riffs and solos, it is remarkable that the bass sections leaped out as easily the strongest weapon of the Aenimus arsenal. The bass has plenty of room to breathe in the mix and the bass lines are very well executed; punchy to increase the aggression of the chugs and independent enough in other sections to stand out from the riffs in a delicious way. The mix on Dreamcatcher is a mixed bag with extremely clear guitar harmonies, the pristine tone for the solos, crystal clear bass and drums, yet collapses while tackling the low-register chugs and breakdowns with muddy over-compressed tones with boring dynamics.
The vocals on this record are the definition of two hits and a miss. Vocalist Alex Green clearly has the deathcore bark down to an exact science, and even manages to hit the high raspy blackened core vocals well on most occasions. Yet, Aenimus falls prey to the tired trope of over-reliance of clean vocals to project “progressive” leanings. These attempts fall flat on more than a few occasions. Between Iron and Silver is easily the most egregious of the offenders in this record and is the weakest tracks on the record, containing catastrophic chorus with flat high-pitched whines nearly as cringe-worthy instantly as the infamous attempt made my Eddie Hermida on Doris (from Suicide Silence’s much-maligned self-titled album). This seven-minute song marks the halfway point of this record and highlights most of the missteps that prevents Dreamcatcher from being a remarkable record and what will inevitably keep Aenimus from reaching their potential market value. Along with that godawful clean chorus, the song ends with a two-minute piano-driven interlude which has no business being in that song adding nothing to the track and takes away much of the gravitas of the record built up by the halfway mark. Dreamcatcher has several tracks which end in hollow key-driven outros which when repeated as often as they are, quickly lose meaning and become unwelcome. In stark contrast, album closer and eponymous Dreamcatcher is an instrumental interlude/outro done spectacularly and serves as the strongest bookend that could be hoped for.
After several listens, it is abundantly clear that Aenimus does its best work when they decide to write shorter, sharper, and more focused songs and struggle to maintain attention as they insist on increasing the runtime of their longer tracks with a misguided goal of pandering to what is expected from a progressive metal track, resorting to adding bloat in terms of mid-paced progressive sections which are all anticipation and no payoff.
For anyone who is no stranger to the subgenre and the host of notable bands within each of its flavors, the songwriting elements progress from tasteful nods to the progenitors to blatant ripoffs very quickly, which is, unfortunately, one of the most glaring downfalls of this entire record. The most pressing complaint against Dreamcatcher is that Aenimus suffers from a major case of an identity crisis. Most of the songwriting is more than palatable when considered in a vacuum, but when taken together, Dreamcatcher almost sounds like a compilation of songs written by other bands than original material. The riffs are solid and aggressive when they want to be, but most of the arrangements give the listener a sense of leading up to a crescendo that never really occurs.
Nobody will deny that Aenimus was firing on all cylinders on Dreamcatcher yet proved to be their undoing. Dreamcatcher will go down as a cautionary tale for new bands highlighting the need to carve out a unique flavor instead of chasing several approaches at the same time. In a genre which relies on abundance, this record proves that sometimes less is indeed more. It is unfortunate that even with having nearly perfected each of the building blocks of a killer technical death metal monolith, Dreamcatcher fell to being lesser than the sum of its parts.