Review Summary: One major stepping stone, to say the least.
The most frustrating thing about great music is that it just takes one odd ingredient for the experience to go awry. Take Grimes’ latest release-- the album was retro but modern in nature, and was very musically exciting, but Claire Boucher’s voice just didn’t do it for me. And because of that one element of Grimes’ music, it was damned near impossible to truly appreciate the album as a whole. I find myself in a similar situation with post-metal group Intronaut’s newest album Habitual Levitations
, as much as it pains me. The instrumentation at hand is stellarly crafted, the riffs are infectious and most of the album as a whole is certainly on par with the band’s discography. Yet Intronaut’s most blatant change-- foregoing harsh vocals, and only utilizing singing-- is a decision that severely dampens the group’s fourth studio outing.
The issue isn’t with Sacha Dunable and David Timnick's voices, but rather how they're used. The singers have gruff voices that are reminiscent of 90s grunge, and the grittiness works wonders for the band’s sound when utilized sparsely. After all, this is why singing worked so well in Valley of Smoke.
When this formula is foregone, though, discomfort ensues. Come “Steps,” an atmospherically dense track, the singing enters the picture rambunctiously and kills the momentum. The problem is simply that the vocals don’t mesh well with the sludge-cum-progressive feel at hand. The band’s harsh vocals are sorely missed here, not only for their ferocity but because of their apt placement. Closer “The Way Down” features the only scream, and it’s one that’s tucked neatly behind a sung note. It’s a shame, because the chaotic moment calls for vocal chaos. Not-so-petty grievances aside, though, Habitual Levitations
offers more thoughts than that of misplaced frontmen.
The album wants to be an accessible one-- this much is evident from the newfound use for vocals-- but it works best when defying this idea, diving headlong into the band's strong suit of instrumental exploration. When Intronaut mean business on Habitual Levitations
, they mean business
: the band’s progressive leanings throughout the release are the most natural sense of adventure the group possesses. Throughout the album's progressive passages, it isn't difficult to imagine Intronaut specializing in its own brand of spacey, jazz-fueled progressive rock, leaving behind the inconsistent sludge elements for something more organic. Listen to the second half of lead single “Milk Leg”; the finesse the band carries on its sleeve is evident enough, from the instrumental prowess at hand to the keen devotion to poignant songwriting. And as the bass crawls from one fret to the next, steadily increasing in emotion, the drums enter a comfortable crawlspace of volume, leaving ample room for the other instruments to breathe. It’s because of this sense of dynamics that Intronaut’s third release speaks volumes, because the emphasis shifts from one musician to the other, balancing opposing elements expertly.
If Intronaut’s upcoming touring with instrumental progressive pioneers Scale the Summit says anything, it’s that maybe the band is heading towards a more chiefly progressive domain. Confidently branded tracks like “Harmoninomicon” lead me to hope this is the case, but at this point it seems pointless to predict the band’s future. Intronaut has such a massive following precisely because it’s about impossible to pigeonhole, and this isn’t changing anytime soon. For better or worse, Intronaut is exploring its possibilities with singing at its disposal: at the least, it’s safe to say Habitual Levitations
is one major stepping stone for the group.