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This is an album that I've had circling around in the car for months on end. It is relaxing to hear how it flows between louder, harder sections and calming jazzy progressions. Intronaut is a decent band with a good handle on their off-beat style and seem more focused on having fun with their sound than being a pretentious progressive metal jazz/fusion band.
Intronaut has a very heavy guitar sound, playing some growling riffs enhanced with a backdrop of melodies but always to a formidable and long-winded rhythmic flow. Rather than go for some low hanging fruit like guitar god soloing or bashing break downs, you're more likely to hear progressions expand the range of any earlier structure in order to give more room for the guitars to breathe their harmonies into the calming but adamant rhythms. You'll hear some atmospheric shredding on the opening song, but also some truly captivating moments and a second movement where the long, drawn out riff becomes its own piece rather than an addendum to the initial structure. This is a common occurrence throughout this album, but is most pronounced in “Killing Birds with Stones”. The improvisational tone of this harmony makes it even more cherished as guitar grain rains on you wrapping the whole song up in its own reverb.
Some songs do get clunky as you find your way into them. At times I've had trouble keeping the right time to some of their rhythms, but this band has staying power that keeps your attention through repeated listens and also works as a background sound, especially when driving. Plenty of times I have been lost in my eyes keeping track of traffic when the right sound will slip into my ears, pique my interest, and my eyes are relegated to a background process.
Other fantastic moments on this album include “Milk Leg”, with it almost grunge atmosphere and sludgy guitars that becomes a jazzy ensemble exemplifying the bass guitar, it's a trippy progression that gets me thinking of “Planet Caravan” by Sabbath. Speaking of Sabbath, “Eventual” opens with “Children of the Grave” and tries to take it on a meandering journey, it's an interesting way to start out but it's also a blatant rip off. Along with being a very fitting song to drive home with, “Steps” is a textbook where the lyrics tell you exactly where to go, how to do it, and what playing some good old heavy metal should sound like. The rise in “Sore Sight for Eyes” and subsequent harmony get me lost in the sound far too often. “The Way Down” shines as beauty incarnate with sappy guitar work, a robust rhythm, and good popping bass to open this song that turns towards a duel between sinister lows and angelic high harmonies. Culminating in a beautiful chorus that the band riffs on throughout a flowing close, bouncing beautiful notes off each other, “The Way Down” is a near perfect experience. These moments keep me coming back to this album and show some real talent from Intronaut.
There are plenty of spellbinding segments in this album. However, despite how robust the instrumentation is, the song structure is meandering and formless. It's an attribute that does set this band apart from many others, but it can also be a detriment that shows a lack of focus. Each song is a unique journey that abruptly leaves you on the roadside. Like a dream, it has a good start and vivid middle, but sometimes the silence of an abrupt ending is as loud as an alarm, harshly snapping you back into reality. This album is an experience as much as each song is so vastly unique. Intronaut's sound as a whole is fantastic and keeps me enthralled through the entire album, but it hangs me out to dry after each song making me feel taken for a ride that never had a destination.
Despite its flaws, this is one of those albums where I can just let it play and enjoy nearly every minute of it.
Take this album for a drive and forget the world for a little while.
Intronaut is a progressive metal band hailing from Los Angeles, California. The band formed in 2004 and since then has put one EP (Null, 2006) and five studio albums (if you want to count The Challenger as a complete studio album).
My first introduction to Intronaut was when I saw them open for the legendary Cynic in 2010. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to think of these guys at first: off-kilter sludgy riffs, polyrythms, ethereal soundscapes of guitars soaked in delay, and reverb-playing arpeggios that intertwine with one another and seemingly flat death vocals. It sort of threw me off, but there was something that made me remember this band and check them out later. I soon found out what that was upon listening to all of their albums and the Null EP.
One thing that I think is really special about Intronaut is that from their first EP in 2006, they started out with their own unique sound. This seems to be pretty uncommon with metal bands today for the most part. Even Gojira’s first couple of EPs, while still heavy as shit, sounded very Morbid Angel/Carcass derivative. Null was definitely a different story.
BUT before I get too sidetracked, let’s talk about the actual album that came out: Habitual Levitations. On The band's 2010 release, a new element was introduced into the band’s sound - clean vocals (gasp!!11). Clean vocals are not used exclusively throughout Valley of Smoke, but they do appear pretty often in the tracks. On Habitual Levitations, one of the things you will probably notice (or bitch about) first is that clean vocals are used exclusively on the album. At first I wasn’t really a huge fan of the way these vocals sounded when I first heard them on VOS, but I did eventually get used to them, and on this album I feel they are utilized even better. The vocals on this album might not always appear super passionate or intense, but they accomplish something that compliments their sound very well. They are used for atmosphere, just like the instruments are much of the time, and they are used to outline a dark or beautiful melody (depending on the track) that is elevated to explosive, cathartic heights by the music the instruments are playing. A great example of how these vocals can compliment an atmosphere is in the song “Steps” where a really, REALLY AWESOME sludgy riff is introduced. When Dave and Sacha are singing over this riff, they utilize haunting harmonies that in a way reminds me of Alice in Chains. At one point, Dave and Sacha are actually singing notes that are a half step off from each other, which I think works really awesomely with the song and is a pretty brilliant idea, although at times I do find the vocals to sound sort of boring, like in the beginning of “Sore Sight for Eyes”. But this is just a minor gripe. These moments usually don’t last very long and are often made up for with the amazing music all over this album.
Another new aspect of this LP is there are some acoustic guitars layered into the mix. It works really well with the atmospheric clean interludes the band sort of specializes in. They work really well in “The Welding” and in “Milk Leg” to add another texture to the guitars. The first track provides us with what is definitely the heaviest riff on the album. With the dissonant harmonies and the way the polyrythm comes in, it’s sure to make you do the “this riff is so heavy” face. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe I’ll talk about that later. The track eventually evolves into something complex and well-written. In true Intronaut fashion, they incorporate the heavy riff they were using and let it transform into a more melodic riff. This eventually gives way to the melancholic, yet beautiful and cathartic instrumental section that finishes the song.
“Harmonomicon” (the title makes me think of some Lovecraftian harmonica?) is a great example of how the melody of the vocals is complimented by the music so well. On “The Way Down”, there is a huge moment of sonic intensity and release. It feels as if all the blood were to rush to your head at once followed by an indescribable euphoria that is the beauty and texture of the melodies and instrumental interplay.
And if we’re talking about Intronaut, it would be a fucking crime to not mention the rhythm section, and as usual...holy shit. The bass lines are tasteful and showcase a lot of skill. The bass and the drums are always locked in together. It feels like it would be impossible to pull them apart. As usual, Danny Walker (drummer) really just does a great job overall. The fills are smooth and feel effortless. The beats and polyrhythms he plays showcase wonderful musicianship and his parts always compliment the songs very well.
Now that I say that and think about it, the songs wouldn’t be the same if you took away one of the instruments. And yeah, that sounds obvious, but what I mean is if you got the drummer from Cannibal Corpse to write drum parts for these songs, they wouldn’t be the same songs. And the drum sound? You think I wasn’t going to mention that? The drums actually sound like I am in the same room with them. They sound smooth, clear, clean, and sexy. In too many modern metal releases (with few exceptions) the drums often sound like fucking plastic being raped by Pro-tools (example: *some modern tech death band*).
With this album, Intronaut has proven again that they are always evolving and they will settle for a sound to be comfortable. They are not afraid to take risks (clean vocals can really piss people off) while, at the same time, they still retain their unquestionably unique sound.
I’d give this a 8-8.5 out of 10. I really enjoyed this and plan on enjoying it more.
Favorite songs - Killing Birds With Stones, Harmonomicon, The Way Down, Steps, and Milk Leg.
[This review comes from my tumblr where I review music, (http://imryanandilikedeathmetal.tumblr.com/) which is why it is copy-pasted]