AenimusDreamcatcher (Nuclear Blast)

Technical death metal bands have long struggled with the challenge of marrying their progressive escapism and virtuosity with cohesive songwriting. And Aenimus don’t seem to have found the answer on Dreamcatcher. However, on their second record, the Bay Area quintet certainly produce enough shifts in mood, enough moments of light and shade, to grab your attention… at least for a short while.

For an outfit whose lyrics are steeped in horror culture and who draw from the pages of Stephen King, the Californians aren’t exactly ‘scary’ (well not in the way that first generation DM could be). This isn’t the stuff of nightmares, or the sonic equivalent of being pulled down a storm drain by a malevolent clown.

But on tracks like The Ritual, their stop/start approach can be unnerving, as can the juxtaposition of gentler textures with churning death riffs. This is music that tells a story through moments of suspense and explosive violence: it doesn’t always pull you in, but when it does – for instance on The Dark Triad and the exceptional Second Sight – the results can be pretty exhilarating.

Dreamcatcher also introduces guitarists Sean Swafford and Jordan Rush as master craftsmen, musicians who should be acknowledged as belonging to the top tier of extreme metal, as much for their poise and guile as their technical ability. Solos soar and dive, convoluted grooves erupt and melodies trickle from their fretboards, as songs like The Overlook enter calmer waters.

Yes, this album may wander a little – and take a frustratingly meandering path at times. But follow Dreamcatcher to its final chapter and you’ll discover a band brimming with ambition… and with the talent to back it up.