There are a few perennial questions that inevitably keep cropping up when you review, or even listen to a lot of, music. One of these, which we’ve dealt with on the blog multiple times, is the question of the importance of innovation. How crucial is it to you, and in general, that a band keep pushing themselves forward? How important is it to an album that it stand out from the rest of a band’s career? These questions naturally become more important when one of the band’s major selling points is their unique sound or the ways in which the band has influenced music in general. Both of these things are certainly true for the band at hand today, Intronaut. Their specific brand of progressive, psychedelic, and varied metal has spawned dozens of imitators and helped solidify the various sounds collectively known as “progressive stoner metal” as one of the emergent genres of the past decade and a half. In addition, one of the band’s largest selling points was how fresh they sounded, how nothing had quite the same impact and verve as their music.
Enter Fluid Existential Inversions, their sixth release. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it but Intronaut have been releasing music for fourteen years now. What then, is the approach we should take to this album? Should we measure it against Intronaut’s established sound and judge it on how much it diverges from said sound? Or should we try and approach it from a “fresh” perspective, if such a thing is even possible? The answer is, as always, complicated and should probably incorporate both of these points of view into something more nuanced. Viewed under this lens, Fluid Existential Inversions is a good album which perhaps self-indulges too much. It has all the makings of a great Intronaut release and when it creates some elbow room for more interesting direction to blossom, it lives up to that potential. However, the “tried and true” Intronaut sound is ever-present and perhaps holds the album back from taking full flight.
A great example of this “elbow room” can be found on tracks like “Tripolar”. It features both one of the heavier and more intense riffs of Intronaut’s career at its beginning and some of their most spacious and space-rock influenced parts. The tension of the deep guitar tones on the intense riff that marks the track’s beginning create this sort of tension which is then released with more “open” chords and experimentation at the track’s middle. This passage has a decidedly “dream” sort of feel to it, evoking the 70’s psychedelic feeling that has always pulsed in the back of Intronaut’s music. But from there, and at certain other “connecting” parts of the track, that tried and true Intronaut track structures takes over. The timbres, the way the instruments roll off each other, the vocal tones, everything just sounds Intronaut. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not but it would have been nice to hear the band dive really deep into those more flighty ideas in the center of the track and take them all the way.
It doesn’t help that the track immediately after this one, “Check Your Misfortune”, is classic Intronaut. Again, Intronaut are great! Classic Intronaut is still several steps better than almost any band operating within this sub-genre. But once we’ve glimpsed a brighter, interesting new direction for what the band might want to do next, it feels a bit disappointing to hear them “collapse” back in a direction that’s well established for them. When the same track then moves back to more interesting sounds, this time in the form of truly tripped out synths and a great use of resonant bass and clean vocals, we get another glimpse of this new Intronaut struggling to be born from out of the band’s familiar sound. But, before long, things go back to normal again with “Pangloss”, one of the more “classically” Intronaut tracks on the album.
This describes Fluid Existential Inversions in general; it feels like a transitory release, like a band with an illustrious career thinking about their next move, flexing new muscles and sounds. When the album truly commits to that, as it does a fair amount of times, then we can sink wholly into it. It’s at those times that the album feels truly essential and immediate. However, it’s still not there constantly and much of the album ends up being good but standard fare for the band, par the course. Then again, as we said above, par the course for Intronaut is still damn good. It’s a complex and nuanced sort of relationship to have with an album, to like the times where it steps out of line but at the same time to wish that it did so much often At the end of the day, Fluid Existential Inversions might not go down as an essential Intronaut album but it might just be the start of a new era for the band, a kind of chrysalis for whatever they want to do next.
Fluid Existential Inversions releases on February 28th, when you get to form your own complex relationship with it. Make sure you head on over to the Bandcamp page above to pre-order it.