It felt like Intronaut had completed their mission. Across ten years and five albums, the Californian outfit had pushed the envelope of progressive metal until it twisted, burst and broke. The bubbling, metallic rage of their debut mutated more with every new release, incorporating jazz rhythms, experimental rock, grungy strains and more. Then on 2015’s The Direction of Last Things, they distilled everything that had come before into a rare tonic of chaos and clarity. It was a thrilling conclusion. Even that title had a certain finality to it.
As such, Fluid Existential Inversions might have felt a little superfluous. Hell, after five years- the longest time between any two Intronaut albums so far- and the departure of drummer extraordinaire Danny Walker, it might have felt totally unnecessary. Instead, it’s probably their best record yet.
The epically-titled ‘Procurement of the Victuals’ is the perfect primer. Swirls of feedback, bubbling bass, intricate drums, and subtle melodies are all pulled together by an up-close production job from long-time collaborator Josh Newell, and Kurt Ballou at the mixing desk. It’s less than a minute long but establishes that the core Intronaut sound is present and correct while teasing just a little more.
If that’s not enough, then second track and first single ‘Cubensis’ doesn’t tease anything, it thunders into life and triumphantly declares its intentions. Part head-turning mechanical flurry, part bass-driven organic rumble, it’s intense but impressively light on its feet. There’s some bark with the bite but the vocals are closer to the grungy growls of the band’s later work until around the halfway mark when they unveil some new, hypnotic clean singing. It’ll catch some folks off guard, it’ll make some folks day. Then, a minute later, when even more light is let in and the song really begins to bloom, it’s clear Intronaut have a whole new mission.
There is still metal to be mined here- “Contrapasso” begins with an excellent sludgy riff, “The Cull” could be Meshuggah for a moment, and “Speaking of Orbs” finishes with fiery grooves and some frankly ridiculous drumming- but the progression here is to be found in harmony, melody, fluency and light. “Check Your Misfortune” is one of the least aggressive but most impressive cuts, and the presence of Ben ‘Cloudkicker’ Sharp on “Sour Everythings” makes perfect sense- he too has found a way to seamlessly pivot from belligerence to beauty and back again.
Intronaut have experimented with these ingredients before of course but here they go all-in. They embrace shimmering ambience, vivid richness, and huge hooks. Other heavy acts have tried similar things but few have made the transition look this easy. A new chapter for a band like no other.
Simon T Diplock
Fluid Existential Inversions is available to order from Metal Blade Records HERE.