Intronaut has never been in the business of simplicity nor stagnation. The L.A. natives may be birthed from an iconic American microcosm — however, musically, they almost seem a satellite to the larger body.
At nearly an hour, Habitual Levitations is their longest album yet, not to mention their longest title, with or without the parenthetical (Instilling Words with Tones). This is also the first release since the old days on Goodfellow Records to not include a title track, but their other two Century Media offerings are both bound by similar imagery in the cover art. Habitual Levitations continues this tradition of feathers, bone, birds, plants — and now a background arc which literally brings everything around through a complete life|death cycle. Intronaut perfects the stride they first nailed on Valley of Smoke, now taking bold giant leaps into once-tentative territory.
Joe Lester’s ebullient bass and the ever-dextrous drumming of Danny Walker drive most of the album, but guitarists Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick heavily control the aptly titled opener ‘Killing Birds With Stones’ — daring and daunting in a bold Daedalean soar, from djent to jangle to jazz, and countless points between. The following serpentine riffs in ‘The Welding’ surprise with nasty punctuated strikes that bloom with surprising beauty, quietly wondering Why do you run from what you can’t escape?
Even with death inevitably looming, they’re still unafraid of an occasional jam, like the dense and engaging framework in the closing minutes of ‘Steps’ that never becomes overindulgent. Then the effective bridge of ‘Sore Sight for Eyes’ gives way to the lead single and album centerpiece: ‘Milk Leg’. I’ve been reading much of my esteemed colleagues opine about our current metal landscape’s dearth of quality vocalists, and are equally likely in agreement with the importance of riffcraft; Intronaut pushes all the right buttons, and Sacha hs surely revealed a secret weapon only hinted at when they covered Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’ in 2008 for the compilation Like Black Holes in the Sky: The Tribute to Syd Barrett.
Take the somewhat-like-minded souls in Torche for example, whose last portmanteaued masterpiece Harmonicraft was one of my 2012 faves. Their crazy catchy thunder pop has an unfailing sense of fun that squelches the most somber of moments. And there’s possibly a sly, slightly eviler nudging elbow in ‘Harmonomicon’, where Intronaut unveils all the gorgeous harmonies in the book—but then for the remaining 2:34, hijacks and skids it into a dirty psychedelic groove before steering into a badass bossa nova outro.
‘Eventual’ practically channels ‘Children of the Grave’ for few seconds, before it twists into an altogether different angular animal. The beast sinks into sweet spots only bested by ‘Blood From A Stone’ — the first all-clean Intronaut tune. Mellow though it may be, its spirit is more mournful, reflective. Dunable’s throat has grown increasingly confident, and thankfully landed far from the overdone good cop-bad cop thang. What they learned — maybe from touring with bands like The Ocean, YOB, and Tool — is how to maintain equilibrium. So much emotion is lost in either autotuned whining or indiscernible growls, and Sacha discovers certain nuances in his voice that are, for the first time, committed to a recording. Admittedly, the counterbalance gets attempted by a few other emergent 21st-century bands like Hull or The Atlas Moth, but the greater success lies with Intronaut.
Perhaps most exciting about the band is their fierce evolutionary persistence. Whether on albums or on tour, Intronaut are the very definition of progressive, which is remarkable considering how much that poor adjective gets haphazardly slapped around metal circles. I can see them playing off one another in my imagination; I can believe in a band who spends its career testing limits and breaking from conventional confines.
There’s something of an easter egg at the end, as the album ends awash in swirling, wubbing feedback. Once it fades out, there’s a wickedly high-pitched falsetto screaming something like “more’” but it’s hard to hear exactly, creating a real curiosity. What more? Can those notes be hit? Could there conceivably be epic celestial doom to rival the mighty Mike Scheidt in the future? Regardless of speculative futures, what we have now is Intronaut’s finest album to date; Habitual Levitations is officially in the running for Best of 2013.