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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Intronaut balance metal with melody on new Valley of Smoke

The album art for Intronaut's new album, Valley of Smoke, is some of the best the metal genre has seen all year. It shows a winged skeleton overlooking a hazy valley landscape, while a vibrantly colored lizard loiters nearby. The image is psilocybinic and prehistoric, like a glimpse into someone's twisted subconscious. It encapsulates Intronaut's elusive nature in a single image. Whereas skeletons are a stock caricature of metal lore, the lizard is not. This proves that Intronaut is not your typical metal band. Possessing metal, sludge and jazz-fusion skills, Intronaut have carved their own loner niche in the metal genre alongside other fringe acts like Isis or Cave-In. Over their short yet lustrous career, Intronaut have honed in on this conglomeration of styles in an evolutionary process (sans any growing pains) and garnered critical acclaim without any accusations of an identity crisis.


Since their inception, Intronaut have distinguished themselves from their metal peers by placing equal emphasis in carving paths of destruction as much as taking time for a melodic detour. But whereas Prehistoricisms, Intronaut's last full length, listened like a combative stew of the band's influences, Valley of Smoke is Intronaut fully aware of itself, and the songs in turn sound more focused and refined.

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Generally speaking, the structure of the music functions much in the same was as Intronaut have in the past. That is, the band keeps its crushing side closely wedded with its inclination for melodic meandering. Album opener ""Elegy,"" which begins with a disgustingly awesome dirge-like riff, shows the band has not lost the ability to produce lead-heavy arrangements. But right before the seismic force of the aforementioned riff exhausts the listener, the riff loosens its death grip on the listener, and in typical Intronaut fashion, wanders off in spacey meditation.

For all their weight in grit, Intronaut have never shied away from showing their tender side, and this has never been more evident than on Valley of Smoke. While ""Elegy"" showcases the band's ability to appease both sides of their musical impulses, Valley has consolidated these softer tendencies into the band's own respective songs.  


""Above,"" a delicate arrangement that showcases Joe Lester's arresting bass abilities, might surprise listeners in its refusal to lash out in a jurrasic fashion. Instead, the song restrains itself, and the melody remains coiled and content amidst the lower latitudes. Further, ""Core Relations,"" a track heavy with hypnotic vocals and gorgeously ornate guitar work, never feels the need to crop up a gigantic wall of distortion. It might surprise previous listeners to hear the band so content in this cerebral realm, but the songs are both successful. The reason for this likely stems from the band's acquisition of airy and cleaner vocals, utilized to bring about an often-divisive attribute with grace. In fact, the functions of these vocals on Valley sound less like a musical compromise than a quality that had been missing all along. The emphasis of Intronaut has always been on the instrumental side of things, and for the most part the guttural vocal work of Sacha Dunable has hovered above the lush arrangements like a minor distraction. But here his vocals harmonize gracefully alongside fellow guitarist Dave Timnick, propelling the song's momentum with sometimes revelatory results.


With Valley of Smoke, Intronaut have proved—once again—their uncanny ability to balance brutality and beauty. However, the way these combative forces are dealt with may bother some past listeners. Valley of Smoke is less primordial than the band's previous efforts. The composition of the whole album is less bipolar, and the warring impulses are often kept in separate cages. But at the end of the day, Intronaut is still a feral entity, as the jam-track ""Valley of Smoke,"" a song ripe with untamed musical exploration, can attest. Therefore, concerns of softening up are unlikely to generate any care from a band so content in its current state of introspection. Intronaut is likely to gawk at you wide-eyed, like the vibrant lizard, deep in thought in some other universe.

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