Intronaut came out swinging in 2006 with both their debut EP and full-length releases, easing themselves comfortably into the modern progressive metal stream that Mastodon, Baroness, Pelican, and others had opened up. Their music was challenging, intricate, and completely original, and they forged this path over the following decade, wave after wave of sludgy, intense sound, and atmosphere. That said, I did find that their previous album, 2015’s The Direction of Last Things, lacked the capture of any new ground and treading water, basically a band that sounded like they had expelled every last drop of what made them who they are.
That brings us to their first album in five years, the deliciously named Fluid Existential Inversions. Expectations were high amongst fans that perhaps, with so much time to invest in the record, Intronaut may return with a fresh arsenal of crushing riffs surrounded by swathes of 70’s proggy goodness and full of new ideas. Whilst I don’t think it’s even possible for them to make a bad collection of songs, this feels like more of the same with a few (albeit grand) highlights, another ever-worrying ‘safe album.’
The first track proper is “Cubensis,” which packs in all the heaviness, riffs, and beams of light that we’ve come to expect from the band. The dynamics flow high and low, the vocals range from squeaky-clean to dirty growls, it builds you up and beats you down passionately, and it rocks pretty damn hard. For any other band (especially a new one), this would impress even the most critical listener, but for Intronaut, it feels like another day at the office. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a grand album-opener and exciting and entertaining from beginning to end, but expectations let me down with every listen. Sadly.
The rest of the album follows suit in the usual Intronaut template, and there’s everything from djent-y crushing grooves to sludge-coated riffs to otherworldly progginess to life-affirming swells of emotion buried in there. If I turn off my Intronaut fanboy switch, it’s a killer journey with many rewards. The band play at the top of their game (expectedly), the production is top-class and sparkles like stripper glitter, the tracklisting is lovingly put together to create a harmonious and even flow, and even the album artwork is a beauty to look at. But that fanboy pilot light always kicks back in at some point, and the view of the record reverts to simply wanting more.
With any other group, this could easily be the best album they would ever release, and it plays like a bastard. And my rating is a high one, simply because artistically, musically, and emotionally, it’s quite flawless (if there is such a thing). But as a long-time fan, and there are many of us out there, I have the musical explorer’s need to see Intronaut break new barriers and forge ahead where others fear to tread. Here’s to holding thumbs for future endeavors.
RELEASE DATE: February 28, 2020