When you think of Intronaut, certain concepts come to mind. Psychedelic color patterns for sure, dolphins for some reason, and skeletal remains across a handful of album covers. In contemplating Intronaut’s career from the outside, what sticks in my mind is a sense of professionalism. Their proficiency in songwriting and performances across albums does not seem to come with egos to match, which is likely how you get their 2014 stint as the backup band for Cloudkicker. In a world where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, it was not therefore very surprising to hear in a recent recording of the Nine Circles Audio Thing that most people in that podcast weren’t previously aware of the existence of a new Intronaut album. But indeed, Intronaut’s sixth album Fluid Existential Inversions is here.
Intronaut formed in 2004 in Los Angeles, California, and has had a mostly stable lineup since their second full length Prehistoricisms which came out in 2008. Founding members Sacha Dunable and Joe Lester, along with longtime guitarist Dave Timnick have quietly been putting out increasingly ambitious albums culminating with 2015’s The Direction of Last Things, a career defining statement if there ever was one. The addition of session drummer Alex Rudinger (The Faceless, Good Tiger, Monuments) for this album only underlines the major question here, which is where do they go now?
Nailing down a specific genre for Intronaut is always a challenge because they operate so organically in multiple sonic areas, and so some combination of the words sludge, jazz and psychedelic and technical probably would all be appropriate. The simplest way I can find to describe Fluid Existential Inversions is to take the all encompassing framework they established on The Direction of Last Things and pushed it subtly but firmly towards prog metal. Part of that is the increased use of synths and mellotrons in songs like “Tripolar” or “The Cull.” But there are even songs like “Speaking of Orbs” that have choruses that evoke Dream Theater at their more commercial sounding. The key to the success of these new instrumental layers is its restrained usage, they’re not overpowering and as such their appearance is a welcome surprise.
The magic of Intronaut has always been the interplay between its four members, how everyone manages to be playing in complete sync while playing their own distinct parts. Joe Lester, arguably the star of this band continues to have one of the best sounding bass guitars in metal. Timnick and Dunable continue their tradition complementary of fluttery guitar lines that nicely sit above the rhythm. And while I think the pair’s clean vocals have tended to be the weakest parts of previous albums, by this album they’ve figured out how to do harmonized clean vocals in a way that works for them and I like what they add to the songs.
As for Rudinger’s drumming, it is precise, and I immediately understand why people would want him to do session work for them. When the hard driving technical riffs come in, he’s a perfect fit to keep up with the rest of the band. The only time that precision works against the music is when the band switches into jam band mode for a minute or two. In the back half of “The Cull” for example, the guitars settle into a quietly cosmic experience, while the drums, instead of adding their own flavor, simply keep the time instead. And while other songs feature flashier drumming in those kinds of moments, it ultimately can feel a bit rigid, which has typically been the opposite of the vibe that Intronaut tries to evoke.
The drumming, along with a minor sequencing issue (I think the album would flow better with “Sour Endings” before “Check Your Misfortune”), end up being relatively minor concerns in the larger context of what is ultimately another satisfying album from Intronaut. Pushed in a busier songwriting direction and guided by the deft mixing of Kurt Ballou, Fluid Existential Inversions makes the case that Intronaut are still able to cover interesting new ground.