Intronaut – Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones) (Century Media Records, 19 March 2013)
Hello there! “TFIF” and all that stuff. I wanted to get one more thing written and shared with you before the weekend, and in deciding what to talk to you about, I was feeling kind of reflective: looking both forward and back. Forward, because (as I mentioned yesterday) this year seems to be slipping by at an alarming rate. Before we know it, it’ll be time for year-end summaries and lists already! There are a few new records that’ve either just come out (or will be soon) that I’m sure will rank pretty high, as well as some from earlier this year I’ve listened to a whole bunch but maybe just haven’t had the chance to review yet. I’m going to want to get moving on posting something about all of those, lest I find myself in a situation like I did at the end of 2013 (where I put together a list of my favorite 26 releases of the year, 25 of which I hadn’t yet written about!) … which, of course, is what also has me thinking backwards. Almost nine months later, I’m still not quite halfway through reviewing last year’s list yet!
So I decided, there’s no time like the present; let’s discuss another of last year’s best albums. This is one of the more high-profile items on that list, or at least one that was put out via the biggest label. So a lot of you are probably already familiar with this band. But there may be some out there who haven’t heard Intronaut before, or may have missed out on this album — which would be a shame, because it’s really good stuff!
First of all, I’d like to address this folks who are completely unfamiliar with this band. In their entry in the Encyclopaedia Metallum, there are two seemingly trivial bits of information: in addition to their main discography, they contributed a cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Arnold Layne” to a Syd Barrett tribute album, add well as a version of Eyehategod‘s “Dixie Whiskey” to a Century Media compilation. Taken together, these two facts tell you nearly everything you need to know about Intronaut.
I honestly don’t remember when I first heard of this Californian progressive post-sludge ensemble — but I could almost bet that it was from somebody at Heavy Blog is Heavy. Those dudes always seem to have a boner for this kind of stuff. I know I’d heard the band’s name mentioned when various tours were announced — alongside folks like Meshuggah, Animals as Leaders, and Scale the Summit, plus at one point a brief trek with Tool when those reclusive winegrowers (and whavever the hell the other three have been up to for the past decade) decided to play a handful of west coast dates. But there’s quite a wide range of folks who could wind up touring with that collection of bands (not to mention, I definitely am more a fan of some of those mentioned than others!), so the amount of information I had from which to formulate any kind of expectation of the band (prior to seeing them live) was rather limited.
I did get the chance to see them, though, last fall when they came to town in the opening slot of a tour with Katatonia, Cult of Luna, and TesseracT. Although it was my first time seeing all of these bands, I’d already heard enough of the others to know what to expect (and– good, bad, or indifferent, each of them pretty much managed to live up to those expectations). But it ended up being the unknown American band that really took me by surprise and blew me away. Their sound was jazzy and progressive, and each member seemed very proficient, but they were playing actual SONGS that had actual melodies and interesting elements to them — not just the soulless virtuosic displays designed to impress but produce little or no emotional response, as some of their peers tend to do. This performance moved me to immediately buy a copy of their most recent album, Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones). As soon as I’d heard the CD (and found that it sounded every bit as good as the band did in a live setting — again, unlike some of the other bands who play in a similar style, who are sometimes known to put on a good show, but then completely ruin their recorded music by overloading it with studio trickery), this album was assured of a spot on by year-end best-of list.
The Intronaut sound is typified by a blend of dirty, sludgey riffs with 1970s AOR atmosphere and harmonies, plus plenty of colorful jazzy guitar and bass chords sprinkled here and there. That particular combination — specifically the beauty of the vocal melodies and big harmonies — reminds me a lot of Baroness, except the heavy parts are heavier, and the proggy parts are proggier. The unaccompanied lead vocals — the singing here never gets truly “unclean” but there are parts that are distinctly less pretty and melodic — often bring to mind Page Hamilton, in a way. Frankly, though, the most appealing part of the band (to me) is the bass parts. At the show I attended, the bassist was near the front of the stage, almost directly in front of where I was standing, and I was basically transfixed the entire time. Not due to particularly impressive or fancy playing, necessarily, but he just had such a gorgeous fretless tone, that really made its presence felt throughout, whether playing in unison with the guitars or a intriguing counterpoint. As I recall (and please bear in mind I saw them nearly a year ago), the biggest highlight of the show was also the high point of the album: the latter part of the song “Milk Leg” with the guitars creating a jazzy atmosphere behind a really cool walking bassline that’s constantly changing ever-so-slightly in intensity and complexity. Even better, the same basic theme in the bass part carries over into the introduction to the next song, “Harmonomicon,” except slower and more expressive.
However, that’s just one small fragment that occurs near the middle of approximately an hour of amazing music. From melodic to polyrhythmic to heavy to atmospheric, there’s an awful lot to wrap your head around here, but this is one introspective journey that’s certainly worth the trip.
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This record label inexplicably doesn’t seem to believe in using Bandcamp, because they’d much rather be a pain in my ass. But they did officially release one video and a couple other songs on YouTube (see below); you can also check out Habitual Levitations on Spotify here, or buy it on CD, vinyl, or MP3 download here. More Intronaut | More Century Media
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