Even within progressive metal, bands sometimes stagnate. It seems like a paradox; the very definition of “progressive” implies forward-thinking and ever-changing. And yet, even for those bands that helped to define what we now know as progressive metal, there doesn’t seem to be much variation from album to album. That’s not to discount any particular band discovering those unique characteristics about their music that makes them recognizable (i.e. Between the Buried and Me, Protest the Hero, Animals as Leaders). However, there is something to be said about a progressive band truly progressing from album to album and avoiding stagnation.
Intronaut is one of those bands. Not one to fit in a neat little box, the Los Angeles-based prog metal act has been pushing the boundaries of metal and what it means to write truly progressive music since their 2006 debut Void. Each subsequent album saw the band expanding upon their sound with a potent mix of crushing sludge-laden riffs, spacey & atmospheric passages, haunting vocal harmonies and unconventional arrangements. However, with their latest opus Fluid Existential Inversions, Intronaut has come completely unhinged and crafted one of the most stunning progressive metal albums in years. The virtuosic performances by Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick both on guitars and vocals and bass extraordinaire Joe Lester are heightened by the contributions of session drummer Alex Rüdinger (Good Tiger, Conquering Dystopia), who gives a career-best performance here.
Album opener and lead single “Cubensis,” with its creepy-crawly main hook and wonky bass rhythm, merely hints at the many twists and turns contained therein. The most effective part of Fluid Existential Inversions is how it takes the best elements of Intronaut and fuses them all into a cohesive whole that truly pays homage to all eras of the band. Granted, they’ve only been around for 15 years, but all fans of the band will find something to love here, no matter if they prefer their older output or more recent work. There are ideas here that were explored on albums past but feel a whole lot more fleshed out this time around.
“Contrapasso” is reminiscent of “The Pleasant Surprise” from the aforementioned Direction of Last Things with its driving sludge riffs and intricate rhythms, but the song as a whole feels more complete in structure – with an extremely satisfying payoff to boot. Intronaut has always had a knack for weaving catchy melodies into their songs in unconventional ways, and in addition to spacious lead guitar work, Dunable and Timnick have stepped up their vocal abilities with more pronounced harmonies and cleans that add greater dynamics to each song.
The band also showcases some more dissonant Meshuggah-esque moments such as on “The Cull” and the chunky breakdown of “Tripolar.” Speaking of chunky riffs, a superb mixing job by the one and only Kurt Ballou gives Fluid Existential Inversions the bite it needs for the low end but also lends itself well to the more atmospheric aspects of the album that require a crisp and clear production.
There is much, much more about this album that could be analyzed and waxed poetic about, but in the end, it’s Intronaut. At its core, Fluid Existential Inversions is an album of superlatives for Intronaut. It is their heaviest album. It is their craziest album. It is their most melodic album. It is their most experimental album. And yes, it is their best album to date. This is the most focused and refined Intronaut has ever been. And it marks the beginning of yet another new era for a band that refuses to be pinned down or constrained by any sort of boundaries – just as progressive music should be.