Album Review: Intronaut - Habitual Levitations
When you pare things down to their essence, truths become clear. When progressive metal is put through the sieve, two common strains stand out. The vast majority of bands fit into one of two categories; those who play technical metal in the mold of Dream Theater, and those who use metal as a framework for throwing in any crazy musical bit they can come up with. That's why we have countless bands that are called Dream Theater clones, and a rising number of bands that are impossible to describe, but very few who play Fates Warning's style of progressive metal. I pass no judgment in saying this, I merely find it interesting that a subset that prides itself on stepping outside the box and expanding horizons can still be as small as the last arc of sun setting in the distance.
Even before hitting play, you know what side of the ledger Intronaut doesn't belong on. Only one song on the album comes in shorter than five minutes, but none break the ten minute mark, the hallmark of all that is prog (or so it seems). The album is filled with compositions more concise than you might expect from material that wears the progressive tag. It's progressive, but never exhaustively so. In many respects, it is the thread of Fates Warning style prog that never gets made anymore.
Opener “Killing Birds With Stones” turns its eight minutes into a miniature journey, exploring mid-era Fates Warning worship for a few moments, before modernizing and bringing Tool influences into the equation. Neither section can match the power of their influences, but there is something to be said for the unusual rhythms drummer Danny Walker conjures up. He manages to make the song more interesting than it would otherwise be.
Robotic blips of sound characterize the aptly titled “The Welding”, which could be an interpretation of how a machine would process music. And much like a machine, there's not much humanity in the composition to grab hold of. Two tracks in, and there are no riffs, no melodies, that step outside of the atmosphere the song lives under.
Therein lies the biggest problem I have with the whole album. Intronaut manages to set up a sound and an atmosphere that is unlike most progressive metal currently out there, and has the potential for some dark explorations, but they can't follow through on that promise. The songs don't play to the strength of the tones, instead wallowing through broad strokes of fake melody until the next instrumental passage can come along. A song like “Sore Sight For Eyes” has what the band thinks is an attempt at a big melodic hook in the chorus, but it's so open and ill-defined that it comes across more as chanting than a gripping melody. The issue pops up repeatedly, dragging the songs down with each appearance.
Intronaut tries to play a style of progressive metal that is sorely lacking from the scene, but they are like many imitators of art; they can get the broad strokes right, but miss the details. The tones and sounds all click, but the songs themselves are lacking a spark. A progressive metal album this dark and mechanical could be an amazing palate to create with, provided the songs have something important to say. After listening to “Habitual Levitations”, I don't come away with the impression the band has anything they want to say. The album feel like them going through the motions, and like a faceless portrait, there just isn't anything here to see.