Review Summary: Intronaut trade in crushing heaviness for proggier leanings.
California's Intronaut are one of the most unique and fastest-rising bands in the modern sludge metal scene. After 2008's sophomore effort Prehistoricisms
gained much-deserved acclaim in the underground, the band began touring with metal giants like Mastodon and Cynic, where they established themselves as a jaw-droppingly heavy live force with a knack for moody atmospherics. On their new record, Valley of Smoke
, Intronaut have fully embraced their atmospheric moments.
Sacha Dunable - Guitar/Vocals
Dave Timnick - Guitar/Backing Vocals
Joe Lester - Bass
Danny Walker - Drums
From the first track, Elegy, there is one new element to the Intronaut sound that will become a staple throughout the album--clean vocals. On the first two albums, vocalists Dunable and Timnick would trade off very similar-sounding growls that created a crushing atmosphere on every song, while the more melodic, lighter sections would be largely instrumental. Now, the vocalists have developed a haunting choral singing effect that fits better with the moodier bits.
The guitar riffs that Dunable and Timnick wield have also sacrificed power for complexity. Whereas Prehistoricisms
highlights The Literal Black Cloud and Australopithecus rely on pounding chords that make you instinctively nod your head along, tracks like Miasma feature odd guitar licks that pull you in multiple directions and show off the band's talent. These passages make it clear that Intronaut have aimed to expand their musical niche. While much of the sludge genre (especially the atmospheric side of it) can be knocked for lack of variation in sound, Intronaut have made a conscious effort to keep things varied--note the 80s rock feel at the beginning of Core Relations or the chill vibe of the title track--and they have great success with it.
Of course, it is impossible to get this far in an Intronaut review without mentioning Joe Lester's bass work. The man is simply one of metal's best, and he's an integral part of what separates the band from other sludge imitators. Lester is capable of playing all sorts of bass styles and flying up and down the fretboard, but his best moments come when he locks into a groove with highly underrated drummer Danny Walker, such as on Elegy. Anybody who questions the usage of bass players in metal needs to pay close attention to Lester's work on all three Intronaut albums.
With Valley of Smoke
, Intronaut are setting foot in a new and interesting direction while keeping the signature elements that have lofted them to the top of the metal underground. While some may accuse them of imitating Isis on this one, the sound is still unmistakably Intronaut. No band in sludge today combines brute force, stunning beauty and jaw-dropping technicality like they do. If you get the chance, see the band live and you'll realize their full strength.