Author: Bloodshot Grub
Album: The Direction of Last Things
Label: Century Media Records
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
That passage, from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the cover art and heard the title of Intronaut’s latest prog-sludge offering, The Direction of Last Things. Given such a pessimistic presentation, the music is surprisingly joyous even as it delves into subjects of hopelessness and futility. With this album, Intronaut seems intent on dancing as the world burns, and I’m glad to be able to join them.
There’s a wonderful diversity of textures throughout the album, featuring much of the territory that Intronaut has explored in the past, all presented very adeptly, along with a few new tricks. The main feature, as always, is a collection of riffs that have both the weight and thickness that sludge requires, and the sort of jazzy, polyrhythmic agility that Intronaut has made their trademark. Interspersed with said riffs are atmospheric clean passages that feature their skillful use of delay, and harmonized clean vocals that contrast with the more traditional shouts of atmospheric sludge. With every album, Intronaut crosses further into the realm of jazz fusion, with improvised chord-melody solos (and even a few drum solos) over or under complex and angular chord progressions. Opening track “Fast Worms” has a section of wonderful interplay in the middle where both guitars are playing staccato lines that interlock and seem to orbit around a common center, the relationship between the two constantly in flux.
It all feels very familiar; neither this album nor its predecessor (Habitual Levitations) broke as much new ground as Valley of Smoke did. That album established the territory that Prehistoricisms first claimed; Habitual Levitations and The Direction of Last Things are gradually pushing its boundaries outwards. At a taut 45 minutes, there isn’t a moment of filler. There’s a structure and form to the album but not much of an arc. It reaches a plateau early on and stays there, commandingly, right through to the last moments of “City Hymnal.”
“Sul Ponticello” features a clever relationship between the song title and the lyrics. The title is a term from classical music meaning “on the bridge,” and is given as an instruction in sheet music for strings players to bow very close to or over the top of the bridge, which creates a ghostly sound emphasizing the harmonics of the instrument. “The sound of dying on the bridge / the sound of pleading for dear life,” as Intronaut themselves describe it in the song’s lyrics. I was a little disappointed to find that there’s nothing happening in the music that directly reflects what they’re talking about, and as I implied in the opening paragraph to this review, that seems to be true of the album as a whole. The music is pure reveille even as Sacha seems to be singing a threnody for the inglorious end of human society. I wonder if that was intentional or whether they simply allowed themselves to follow their natural musical and lyrical inclinations independently of each other. As it stands, I enjoy both, but I have to wonder if there’s an intention behind that contrast that I’m not seeing, or whether it does in fact represent a casual disregard of The End, or even a celebration of it.
Even if I don’t entirely comprehend Intronaut’s lyrical intentions on this one, I find the music to be endlessly enjoyable, thick and heavy enough to be satisfying as a sludge album, and inventive and diverse enough to be equally satisfying as a prog album. Five albums in and Intronaut has yet to disappoint, and I have no reason to believe that that will change any time soon.
- Bloodshot Grub