Review Summary: Fearless as ever, Intronaut put forth their most accessible effort yet without sacrificing their trademark intricacy and thunder.
Just when you think Intronaut can’t twist and grow any more, they knock down another musical wall and continue on their way. These nigh-unclassifiable Californians have changed the game with every release – from their Meshuggah-slaying debut Void
to stoner-jazz tour-de-force Valley of Smoke
, every album has been different from the last and enjoyable for new reasons. It’s fascinating listening to their breakthrough opus Prehistoricisms
and hearing the difference between two consecutive songs; take, for instance, the meticulously planned polyrhythms and explosive drumming of “Australopithecus”, immediately followed by “The Reptile Brain”, whose impressively authentic Indian raga impression foregoes technical wanking entirely for an otherworldly trip into Eastern melody and meditation.
So what is one to expect from a band that consistently defies expectation? The only sure thing about Habitual Levitations
was that it would be another crazy intellectual and emotional trip (and perhaps that, as photos of the band’s cannabis-littered notes showed, a fair amount of mind-altering substances were involved in its writing). Pre-release single “Milk Leg” hinted at a strong emphasis on rhythm and atmosphere and a continuation away from pounding metallic chords, yet before fans could mourn the loss of Intronaut’s heavy side, “The Welding” brought a fresh intensity, layering meticulous vocal harmonies over tightly-woven guitar lines en route to a charging climax.
Whether Intronaut’s sound is organically developed or a product of emerging influences is both elusive and probably irrelevant. Among the often-dissonant layers of guitar and Danny Walker’s endlessly creative drumming, there are hints of everything from sludge metal to free jazz. Though Sacha Dunable and company have largely dropped harsh vocals for harmonized singing in the footsteps of Mastodon and Baroness, Habitual Levitations
isn’t aiming to be so much accessible as universal. The subtly changing textures of “The Way Down” may be reminiscent of latter-day Isis – think “Stone to Wake A Serpent” – but by the end of the song, you’re left with a taste closer to John Coltrane’s transcendent improvisations than the raging of Godflesh.
In contrast to the way bands like BTBAM and Periphery aim to impress with technical wizardry, Intronaut’s virtuosity supports a more emotional purpose. Danny Walker and Joe Lester comprise one of the more formidable rhythm sections in heavy music, but rather than being flashy, their creative arrangements add prodigious depth to the songs. With Intronaut’s increased emphasis on atmospheric elements, this holistic approach to songwriting is integral to Habitual Levitations
’ success. After hearing tracks like “Sore Sight for Eyes”, with its power-chord riffing, and the dreamy, to-the-point "Blood From A Stone”, it’s not a stretch to say that Intronaut is flirting with mainstream appeal for the first time. The structures are still fleeting, and the harmonic and rhythmic forms are as fascinating as ever, but these guys manage to make it almost catchy
The difference here is that this new accessibility is being achieved on Intronaut’s terms, and to Intronaut’s very high musical and intellectual standards. What makes Habitual Levitations
unique – in both Intronaut’s repertoire and the larger canon of progressive metal – is how it pulls you in on the first listen, but remains exciting no matter how many times you come back. While Cynic and Opeth have fans grumbling about their lighter new directions, it’s hard to lament the way that Intronaut are going about their business. Music lovers no longer have an excuse to disregard metal as a whole for being too “angry” or “mindless”; Intronaut have been knocking on the door for years, and with Habitual Levitations
they just might blow the roof off popular notions of what metal is capable of.
Top songs: The Welding, Killing Birds With Stones, The Way Down