INTRONAUT
"Habitual Levitations"

(Century Media)

01. Killing Birds With Stones
02. The Welding
03. Steps
04. Sore Sight For Eyes
05. Milk Leg
06. Harmonomicon
07. Eventual
08. Blood From A Stone
09. The Way Down

RATING: 8/10

Welcome to INTRONAUT's easy listening LP - anyone who saw this coming, please raise your hand and then go take a hike, will you?

Now, now, DON'T PANIC! We don't mean "easy listening" in the Brat Pack sense or even entirely in the "not challenging" sense, but rather some kind of combination of the two that only listeners well versed in INTRONAUT's peculiar career evolution will probably understand, so let's backtrack to try and clarify the plot for everyone?

In the beginning, the L.A.-based virtuosi indulged in hyper-demanding, brutishly Byzantine extreme metal (see 2006's tandem "Null" and "Void" releases) before parting ways with original guitarist Leon Del Muerte (via '07's 'The Voyager' EP) and easing off the human growth hormone so as to explore a broader swathe of moods, textures and styles ('08's "Prehistoricisms" and '10's "Valley of Smoke") - by and large with spectacularly rewarding results.

So for listeners who traversed each of these phases along with the group, INTRONAUT's transition into even more subtle realms of sub-metallic experimentation on 2013's expansively titled "Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones)" should be neither surprising, nor confusing, but, like its sub-title says: an experience involving numerous, fluidly arranged musical shadings (even heavier ones) that ultimately prove easier to digest and process.

Sort of like BARONESS' "Yellow & Green" if it were painted with a much broader color palette.

As a result, the abiding atmosphere pervading new cuts like "Killing Birds with Stones", "Sore Sights for Eyes" and "Blood from a Stone" is meditative and hypnotic rather than angular and rude; Sacha Dunable's coarse howls have almost been retired in exchange for soothing, almost monastic chants; and even the band's dazzling instrumental chops coast along in mellifluous sympathy rather than wrestling each other for the three-count - as was customary on those earliest releases.

Nevertheless, listen closely and the INTRONAUT of old reveals itself, alive and kicking (if somewhat less jittery), within the off-kilter tempos of "The Welding", rumbling syncopated riffs of "Milk Leg", dissonant guitar crunches of "The Way Down" and "Children of the Grave" riff they manhandled into "Eventual" - not to mention many other, brief manifestations sprinkled here and there.

Yes, the band has changed its sound dramatically over the years - no one's refuting that - but listen closely to "Habitual Levitations" and, excepting those fans who wish INTRONAUT still sounded like a nastier iteration of early MASTODON (hardly a bad thing, we admit), and we wager you'll find almost as much invention (intensity no, invention yes) as ever nestled deep within these deceptively ethereal songs.

Bottom line, it's obvious that constant progress was INTRONAUT's career brief from almost the very start, so their fans would be wise to expect even more daring experiments on future albums, including some that may bring the band back around the "uneasy listening" of yesteryear.

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