Review Summary: Graviton create a fascinating album that is both alien and accessible, a combination sure to open many new fans to the world of progressive metal. Bravo.
The late ‘90s and early 2000’s saw an explosion of new U.S. metal bands (dubbed the New Wave of American Heavy Metal), spearheaded by the likes of Tool, Machine Head, Mastodon, and any number of metalcore bands whose names begin with “A”. It was a pretty cool time to be introduced to metal. Skip ahead about ten years and those same bands are still rolling along, but now there are legions of imitators, copycats and just a whole lot of middling talent saturating the industry (this is to say nothing of Attack Attack! and brokeNcyde). Fortunately, there is a new movement afoot: post-metal is on the rise. These are bands that grew tired of unimaginative hXc chugging and obtuse, breakdown-laden whatever-core. Bands like Neurosis, Cult of Luna, and Isis have been doing their thing for several years, but new progressive/post-metal acts like Kylesa, Baroness, Rosetta and Intronaut are re-writing the rules and people are starting to notice. Metal is progressing again.
Graviton was born of this movement, as the side project of Intronaut guitarist/vocalist Sacha Dunable. A vehicle for material that didn’t quite fit Dunable’s main band (this is not so much "metal" as it is progressive rock), Graviton is Intronaut’s chill, spacey cousin. “Massless” is full of churning, dissonant guitar lines, legato vocals and drumming that ranges from sparse, Isis-style beats to syncopated thrumming that would make Sean Reinert proud. Opener “Mu Lepton” is a good example of what the album is all about, complete with a title about an electron-like particle. The piece opens with reverb-drenched guitar in an unrecognizable time signature before Dunable’s voice floats into the arrangement and drums begin slowly pounding behind the mix in a 7/4 beat. On the whole it’s quite hypnotic as it slowly, almost subconsciously, builds in energy before the original guitar lick brings the song to a hazy end. “Boson” follows with a dense guitar rhythm before collapsing into an atmospheric break behind light piano and acoustic guitar. Graviton orchestrate these instrumental breaks beautifully, dangling new ideas in front of the listener before coming in with something completely unexpected but equally rewarding.
For those accustomed to Intronaut, this will be something of an eye-opener. “Above” and “Below” from Valley of Smoke might be the best comparisons, with their subtle arrangements and echo-laden vocal tracks. Drummer Derek Donley (alliteration much?) doesn’t lean on the double-bass pedal until the seventh track, instead relying on an impeccable sense of timing to throw in measured tom hits and ghostly snare rolls. “Fermion” brings the first hint of what could be considered a heavy riff, though without the ferocity of something truly “metal.” The next track, “Anti-Mesons,” is an industrial-sounding interlude with floating drum rolls and vocal samples, before giving way to the soothing organ intro of “Hadron.” This is music that has little precedent, something rather hard to come by these days. Graviton maintain flow within the album by passing elements from one song to the next, though no two can be confused with one another; each piece has a quality about it that is unmistakably its own. The ending of “Hadron” brings a riff that also begins “Tachyon,” but the dissonant, counterpoint riffs and vocals of the latter signal a change in temperament to something tense and ominous. “Quarks” follows with the first harsh vocals and fast drumming, though in half-time so that the urgency remains measured and contemplative. Finally, the album ends with the more relaxed "Baryon" and two instrumental tracks, a calming end to an exciting album.
This slow evolution between songs gives “Massless” a unified character, where each song is both a vessel unto itself and a furthering of the conceptual whole. Graviton have crafted this as a complete work, and "Massless" is almost impossible to turn off without completing the journey through all ten tracks. Dunable and company have created an album that is refreshing in its outlook and fascinating in its composition. If this doesn’t stand as one of the year's best progressive metal albums (if you can still call it metal), then audiences will have no one to blame but themselves for not giving it a chance.