Retro Review: Inanna – Transfigured in a Thousand Delusions
The Shadow Over Santiago
While today we often group the dissonant, old school, cavernous, and psychedelic/”astral” branches of death metal as separate categories, the late 2000s and early 2010s did not make much of this distinction. Grave Miasma, Ignivomous, Necrovation, Obliteration, Denial, Borgia, The Wakedead Gathering, Mitochondrion, Dead Congregation; these are all bands with distinctive sounds yet they were all part of the same movement. We could say this was “dark” and “atmospheric” death metal in general but such a broad umbrella eventually fragmented into the previously listed styles among others.
There were those that, while part of the movement, arguably encompassed so many varying characteristics that you could not quite put them into a particular box, with even my own classification of “Death In Opposition” arguably being fairly broad. Nex Carnis, Undersave, Gyibaaw, VoidCeremony, second album-Polyptych and a few others are anomalies of sorts. They’re emblematic of a time when the dominance of pristine, cut and dry, and to many, plasticine nature of the blast-happy, brutal/technical bands was wearing thin. The wake created by genre giants such as Behemoth, Necrophagist, Vital Remains, and Hate Eternal had gotten rid of much of the idiosyncrasy of classic ’90s death metal, something many wanted to see returned. Yet the DIO movement was not here to simply retread those glories but fulfill the promises that had been revealed in the genre’s heyday but not yet fully embodied.
Inanna had been emblematic of this ideal from the start with 2008’s Converging Ages, creating a sorcerous voyage of cosmic thrashiness and arcane melodies laced with an understated dissonance. It was a difficult album to compare with bands other than The Chasm or Gyibaaw. Yet similarities only went a little past the topsoil once one dug further into each band’s idiosyncrasies. A year later and three members of Inanna appeared on Perpetuum’s only album, Gradual Decay of Conscience. A lineup of Carlos Fuentes (once guitarist for Inanna, drumming here and now his main band), guitarist and here vocalist Cristobal González (joining Inanna in 2019), and Diego Iblanca (guitars in Inanna) made it easy to draw many comparisons.
Yet Perpetuum lacked the thrashier base of that band, opting for a more blackened and experimental sound. Perpetuum’s music was a lot more spacious and less streamlined than Inanna’s, yet the album served as a testing ground for what would define their second album, Transfigured in a Thousand Delusions. Its spacious riffing and far more ambiguous tonality can be seen as a sort of warm-up drill, one that after a three-year wait would result in one of the first half of the 2010s most perplexing death metal albums. Much of the prior complexities are condensed though their epic scope remains. A clear difference between capping an album off with a nearly 18-minute track and one is a mere 10 tells you much about the direction the album heads in.
Inanna retains their complexity in spite of this streamlining but right from the get-go it is notably easier to follow, continuing the thrashiness even beyond the immediacy and intensity. Said thrash is less Big Four, instead approximating earlier progressive/technical thrash warped into a more spacious, tonally ambiguous form. Voivod, Mekong Delta, Savage Choir, Masquerader, Osiris (The Netherlands), and fellow Chileans Dictator come to mind in terms of the deft instrumentation and highly specific guitar work. This also extends to the way they implement dissonance, joined at the hip to the thrashing fury and used as a part of the stylistic puzzle as opposed to the entirety of it. It is not quite dissonant enough to be part of the post-DsO and Gorguts style bands, but it touches on similar ideas—just from a very different perspective.
Also benefitting greatly from this is the songwriting with individual riffs standing out far more, allowing the relations and interplay between them to take on a greater sense of conflicting drama. Unsurprisingly, this is Inanna’s hardest-hitting album, yet even with its excursions into sections defined less so by machine-gunning riffs and more so by spacious chordal shapes and ambiguous tonalities. Guitars frequently enter stranger, ambiguous phrasings, opening many new songwriting possibilities. Combined with the skank beat relentlessness and rapidly changing riffs, it never becomes about texture or ambience. It possesses both in perhaps a greater degree than its predecessor but delivers it with a dogged relentlessness as ethereal as it is incisive.
The contrast and even conflict between individual riffs serves as a structural basis, tension generated by violently shifting from introductory patterns. In turn this creates the basis for resolutions via sharp digressions and variations, playing off of the tempo and tension to flesh out a track’s tonal vocabulary and range of expression. While there are less riffs and moving parts than the last album, they avoid entirely cyclical structures regardless. Riffs are re-used to anchor songs sometimes varied up in their execution, shifting context, phrasing, and tempo around. In doing so, they take a familiar theme heard earlier and rather than falling into comfortable patterns, break them with unfamiliar, new portions. With the greater speed and aggression, some of this might normally blur together, especially given the song lengths. Deft choices in the speed and the phrasing, whether from blurring tremolo strums to cluster-picked notes, help guide each digression into new territory starkly differing from what preceded it.
It’s a bit like a fast, high speed ride through a maze-like city, finding oneself turning into familiar streets and occasionally completely different ones, the beauty of newfound scenery momentarily drawing attention away before turning back into a main route. Sharper contrasts as a whole play a larger role than before, such as with sudden changes in tempo or harmonic density via riffing style to outright clean sections, the latter providing well needed rests on a stormy album. It is a relentless album, hard hitting even when it slows down, but with various subtleties and idiosyncrasies. Progressive death metal for sure, but one that has little to do with a world of River of Nihils and Black Crown Initiates, rooted in old traditions executed and developed without a need for worship of redundancy.
Just as Converging Ages existed as part of a movement for darker and more atmospheric death metal, Transfigured in a Thousand Delusions continues this. Refusing to narrow itself to a particular expression of death metal bound to any of its dominant schools of thought, it manages to be at once familiar in its aspirations and alien in its horizons. In a time when the influence of thrash in death metal is perplexingly low even with a resurgence in the supposed worship of the ’90s, Inanna unabashedly indulges in the genre’s influence. Yet it never at any points feels like a stereotypically thrashy death metal band; it’s very certain where it stands rather than being a transition between genres. Even more so, we could say its still a very “progressive” album not for the sake of novelty but the possibilities it displays, unbound from the need to be “modern”, “old school” or even supposedly “groundbreaking” according to hype-slavering magazines simply looking for the next temporary distraction.
Think of Inanna as a band that demonstrates the linking of death metal’s history to its still unfolding story as opposed to finding momentarily “new” ideas to slap onto a familiar chassis. Instead, they are evolving that framework as a still living project, presenting an alternative narrative vision and future of where the genre could have gone after or instead of the big late ’90s to mid 2000s paradigm shift. Few bands are like Inanna because few approach the genre’s fundamentals from this perspective. Before I would laud them as the past, present, and future united. Now I hear the dwellers of their own reality and ourselves merely the visitors to the funereal, celestial domain whose gateways they have opened for us.
4.5/5 Thousandfold Toilets