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December 2, 2010

IntronautValley of Smoke (Century Media, 2010)

This L.A. outfit continue their exploration of the boundaries of metal with this, their third album. This combination of players has both impressive prowess and perspective, and, for their particular context, they are unlike anything else.

Since 2006, Intronaut have been forging a unique path through heavy music. Their jazzy, progressive approach gives them an uncommon sound and sensibility in the metal context, as does their attention to melody and texture. At the core, though, they’re very much a loud, heavy band, and their tunes are rooted in pummelling rhythms and low-tuned guitars. This latest record presents the elements that make up the band’s sound – the intricate drumming, the dynamics and unusual changes, the atmospheric guitar effects and weighty riffs, the molten liquid fretless bass – and hones them into what many (including the band themselves) believe to be their best effort yet. The problem when explaining a band and record like this, though, is that once adjectives like “progressive,” “jazzy,” or “complex” emerge, it can take some effort to convince people that those qualities don’t equal insta-crap. For what such adjectives are worth, though, they’re applicable and positive in the case of Intronaut. They’re a group who thrive on a progressive approach to heavy music, and who do it well, never losing sight of what songs are.

Which brings up an important point about this new album: a change in vocal style has brought about a change in how the band’s songs work. The vocals on their previous albums were entirely screamed, but Valley of Smoke incorporates singing for the first time. And in no small amount, either, as their new harmony vocal style is prevalent throughout. The familiar guttural growls and screams are still present, of course, but, the presence of vocal melody now gives them a counterpoint and adds a powerful new melodic depth to what’s going on, as the band explain here.

Lyrically, Valley of Smoke is an album about Los Angeles. The album’s texts are all inspired by events and stories from L.A. history which are explained over at the band’s blog. Musically, it’s another step forward for a band who have always done things differently. It contains the metal elements of their previous releases, of course, but it also develops their non-metal tendencies further, resulting in a complex album which, in places, harkens back to certain progressive/melodic heavy sounds of the 90s – two points of reference thereto: the album’s title track features a guest performance by Tool’s Justin Chancellor, and Intronaut toured with Helmet shortly after the record’s release.

Despite any similarities to older sounds, though, this record is, in many ways, its own thing. What makes this band so interesting is that nobody’s done this style quite like they’re doing it, and, if you’re looking for something new in metal, Intronaut is certainly worth paying attention to.

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