Album Review: Intronaut - Fluid Existential Inversions

Artist: Intronaut

Album: Fluid Existential Inversions

Genre: Progressive Metal

Review by Brady Irwin

You can’t have a band name called Intronaut and not have at least some level of meandering and wandering nature to your product; it’s baked into the name. And, since 2004, that’s what the band have been famous for crafting – thoughtful, expansive, psychedelic but also crushing post-metal.

That said, latest release ‘Fluid Existential Inversions’ seems to generally follow the pattern of things tightening up towards the ‘metal’ aspect of their progressive spectrum, much the same way 2015’s ‘The Direction of Last Things’ brought in a tighter focus on The Riff. The addition both of Alex Rudinger (of The Faceless fame) and of keyboards provides additional dynamics on either of the band’s wide, wide palette, with interesting effect.

Procurement of the Visuals kicks things off in exactly this fashion – sixteen seconds in, we go from wavering ambient keys, to a tight and focused riff that is so Cloudkicker it’s not funny. Which makes sense, seeing as Ben Sharp of that very one-man prog-djent project features throughout this album as a guest.

With that sharp (sorry, I had to) and cutting intro, harmonics and dive-bombs jumping around open-ended feeling drums, Cubensis tightens up even further, the urgent and spindly muted guitar of stringsman/vocalist Sacha Dunable contrasting his own vocal range between alt-rock croon and post-metal gruff bark. It doesn’t take long for the immutably playful due to Rudinger and low-end magician Joe Lester to move the band between off-time shuffles and tight, thrashing sections in much quicker succession than past albums. It’s clear the outside of a new drummer has given urgency to this track, which pushes and pulls against arpeggio-heavy progressive/post-rock leanings later on.

Awash with heavy use of reverb and delay over playful rhythms, the track ambles off in a fairly non-descript fashion into the crashing walls of the Meshuggah-esque super heavy chugging of The Cull. A delightful surprise at the start, Dunable’s screams here wail in a much higher register than usual, a pained rasp that creates immediate tension.

Interesting interplay between jazzy shuffles, broad keyboard tones, chugging riffs and rough/clean vocals chop this song up into a menagerie of many things in a short time. Instead of wandering off for minutes at a time, the more ambient prog sections here are constrained in favour of those very alt-feeling arpeggios and crooning vocals. Rudinger is indistinguishable from his death metal roots here, employing a steady, shuffling and highly open-handed style that works well when the lights go down for Lester and Dunable to provide similarly relaxed, calming passages in the latter half.

Those that are familiar with Intronaut know that this is a fairly predictable pattern – start out heavy or soft, push-and-pull between the two, oscillate between gruff and clean vocals. It’s not a formula they break any time soon on this album, which you could take to your enjoyment or detriment, really.

Contrapasso breaks this mould initially, punching out a very Deftones style riff with some interesting harmonic slides and chugs before heading back into palm-muted thrash territory. With time signatures you could never set a watch to, the labyrinthine riffs open up to something quite new even for them, with a very keyboard-drenched section that employs a very Hawkwind-style pulp sci-fi musical feel, before twisting back into a breakdown that wouldn’t be out of place on an early-2000’s metalcore album, and then a very slide-heavy solo. Just like, well, every other song it seems, there’s no lasting repeated chorus-style hooks buried within this track, but definitely a pastiche of lasting melodies and riffs that will stick on further listens.

Speaking of Orbs then dangles a jagged arpeggio with a very phasered bass intro, warbling into that smooth drumming and some foregrounded leads. In very robotic phrasing, multi-vocal harmonies drone in before the melody hits a more alternative rock feel, beefing up even more into heavier riffing. It’s impressive to hear how easily these guys than push and pull between disparate aesthetics in a very short time, and the backline pass between a Mastodon type riff stomp and a more lilting, prog-rock feel is executed seamlessly. The closest thing to a chorus exists here, but even that is whirled and whooshed around entangling riffs that never stay static for too long.

Tripolar eschews the hard-rock dynamics for a bit, focusing more wholly on being ominous and heavy, with background keys that wouldn’t be out of place in the darker corners of an Opeth album. Droning and lurching at a surer pace and with thick walled riffs, this track is arguably the most ‘metal’ of the album. With more screams, large, bounding palm-muted riffs and a less exploratory mid-section, this is definitely a number focused on showcasing the bands’ heavier side.

Likewise, Check Your Misfortune offers up a wall of double-kicks, chords and tight leads that keeps the pacing stringent yet playful. The open shuffles of the album’s prior tracks are condensed into much sharper sections here, juxtaposed with that now almost-requisite ambient, jam-like middle, with a very Eastern-feeling guitar lick. The addition of keys throughout this part and the end breakdown provides both depth and a glossy sheen that is both eerie and haunting. It’s nice touch and a departure from simply using guitar and bass pedals for a similar effect.

The formula of opening things heavy returns with Pangloss, which has a doomy and chug-heavy vibe as vocals once again become strained and almost black metal-like in place. As vocal melodies shift from that alt-croon to screams and back again, the pacing is withheld from faltering on this one for quite some time. It’s clear the band have a love for traditional and modern metal, as the riffs juxtapose between classic thrash style sections and more poly-rhythmic modern djent-feeling breakdowns. We know the inevitable clean, reverb and keys drenched break is coming, however it has more impact on this track, as there is a good level of tension build-up. This time, too, the melodies are more off-key, slightly warped and bent, which makes the also-inevitable return breakdown riff also a release of tension.

Sour Everythings opens with much the same flavour as prior tracks, vocal harmonies seeming to float independently of bend-heavy guitar and that perpetually shifting, fluid rhythm section. The switch between those ubiquitous prog-jam passages and tight, alt-metal breakdown riffs becomes more manic here, the heaviness bleeding right into those typically more ambient sections. It works to fantastic effect, too, and honestly is something I could see myself enjoying being used more in their works as opposed to long, slow meanders. It also leads to a fairly prompt ending to the whole album, and ends things surprisingly quickly with little fanfare.

Overall, ‘Fluid Existential Inversions’ is a great album. However, like previous forays by the band, it’s something you need to be in the mood for. Going in with the mindset of receiving verse-chorus-verse-chorus or mental templates you may have for progressive/post-metal may leave you disappointed. Clever, subtle and dynamic, the heavy use of expansive passages may leave some wanting, but as usual there is more enough of an ever-changing landscape within each track to definitely warrant repeat listens.

Fluid Existential Inversions is out now via Metal Blade Records.

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