Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones)

Written by: AP on 01/10/2013 20:30:09

Intronaut have always remained a rather hip band; unknown to most, but loved dearly by those that have discovered them. Their refined, jam-based progressive metal is not applicable in many listening contexts due to the sheer length, complexity and exploratory nature, but at the same time, this natural aversion toward the easy and accessible has drawn the intrigue of many a prog-nerd since the release of the band's debut album "Void" in 2006. Since then, Intronaut have released two further albums, "Prehistoricisms" (2008) and "Valley of Smoke" (2010), both of which were met with mixed reactions due to the insistence on exploring ever stranger, more long-winding songwriting patterns heavily reliant on extensive melodic tinkering; and so, with this latest outing "Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones)", the group decisively take one step forward, whilst taking two steps back.

The album reverts the most significant changes that were applied by Intronaut on the previous two LPs - namely the heavy indulgence on meandering melodic jams that seemed to go everywhere and nowhere at once; and introduces an approach that relies exclusively on clean vocals, courtesy of the two guitarists Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick. While some of the band's more metallically inclined fans might find the change dissatisfying, it is an approach that enables both of these gentlemen to expose the full reach of their pipes, which range between the sort of melancholic singing customary to the Baroness and Opeth of recent times, and powerful, heavily strained roaring reminiscent of Mastodon. Contrasting the shift toward more melody in the vocal department, however, is an instrumental foundation that has only grown heavier; the grooves are deeper, and the rhythm section, courtesy of bassist Joe Lester and drummer Danny Walker, enjoys a notch more prominence in the mix - a welcome touch, given the dazzling nature of Walker's percussion, polyrhythmic and highly textured; and the fuzzy vibrance of Lester's free-handed, jazzy licks. This richness of the soundscape is on magnificent display particularly in the bridge-turned-outro section slotting in around the 5:30 minute mark in "Killing Birds With Stones", when guitars, bass, drums and vocals combine to form a miasma of intertwining tones, melodies and organic percussion patterns that is similar in spirit, scope and scale to the most awe-inspiring moments found on The Ocean's latest album "Pelagial", as well as Mastodon's "Crack the Skye".

The sound is, as fans of the genre will quickly note, decidedly prog; as full of subtle nuances as it is of striking details, and riddled with dynamic contrasts such as the evolution of "The Welding" from rumbling seven-string dirge into a mighty, heavier-than-thou gallop; and the transition of "Steps" from a low djent groove through thundering double-pedals into a soothing, melancholy intermezzo bringing to mind Opeth's latest endeavours. These are songs that betray compositional genius, albeit ones that offer little respite to those not prepared to cast their full, undivided attention at them; songs that will always sound breathtaking in sessions, yet ones that are unlikely to engrave specific standout moments into one's memory. "A Sore Sight for Eyes" is a little more forgiving, clocking in at 'merely' 5 and a half minutes, and producing a main riff which, despite its atypical nature, manages to instil an impression of recognisability. It also boasts the most absorbing vocal bits on the album, culminating in the easily remembered, though still not short sold, longingly sung chorus of "It drags us down into the sea / our scream unheard, it's too late / the mess we made is all that remains / and all we have to do now is wait".

Fans of Mastodon that my have stumbled across this review will undoubtedly bask in the syncopated mystery of lead single "Milk Leg", which, too, is of the softer shelf that "Habitual Levitations" has to offer: the seventh string notes are played predominantly muted, the singing occupies, for much of the song, the more celestial aspect of Intronaut's two-pronged vocal approach, and were it not for the inspired, finger picked jazz-bass buzzing beneath, the extensive bridge would not sound so strange on some cinematic post-rock album. Speaking of which: the only real hindrance between Intronaut's achievements here and the highest acclaim, is that there still remain traces of the inconsequential jamming that marred the previous two efforts. It's not that a song like "Harmonomicon", or the final 66% of "Eventual" don't reflect immense skill of musicianship - it's that their open mic, jam night feel starts to sound like something one would expect to hear in an elevator, and at 6 and a half minutes, I feel like pulling the emergency brake, prying the doors open and stepping off long before the top floor (which, by the way, offers no crescendo or revelation; it just ends). Here, perhaps, Intronaut could have done well to condense their ideas either into fewer songs, or at the very least into shorter songs. As it stands, the second half of "Habitual Levitations" has great difficulty reaching the bar raised colossally high by the first half, though the grotesque weight and enormity of "The Way Down" do their best to rectify the situation (again, the last 3 minutes of pulsating sampled noise should probably have been shaved off).

Still, by virtue of the sheer strength of the first five tracks, and the partial return to such grandeur near the end, "Habitual Levitations" is a distinguished progressive metal album which, for Intronaut's love of jams, might appeal in some respects even to the more psychedelically inclined (in the vein of "Crack the Skye"). The wealth of elements to discover, dissect and examine on each consecutive listen, on its own, should provide ample motivation to find space for this disc on any true music nerd's shelf.


Download: Killing Birds With Stones, Steps, A Sore Sight for Eyes, Milk Leg
For the fans of: East of the Wall, Mastodon, Mouth of the Architect, The Ocean
Listen: Facebook

Release date 19.03.2013
Century Media

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