Intronaut – ‘Valley Of Smoke’ Album Review

The last time I encountered an album that made me sit up and listen like this was High on fire’s simply amazing’Snakes for the divine’ album. Intronaut follow a similar vein of heavy, pounding, doom-referencing rock but it’s a much heavier furrow that the band plough and the opening riff is large enough to swallow a planet – imagine High on fire using Neurosis as a reference in place of Motorhead and you have a vague, vague idea of what this band are about. Better still imagine the earth being swallowed inside a black hole while you stand on a cliff edge watching the horizon being swallowed by the impending catastrophe and you have an idea of where this creative, coruscating outfit are heading.

The opening track is all you really need to know if you’re going to enjoy this release. ‘Elegy’ is a glorious, brutal, melodic, abrasive rollercoaster ride through the fertile imagination of the band – a progressive-edged ride that incorporates a central riff so magnificent that you’re awestruck in its presence. The sound will be familiar to fans of The Ocean (particularly the Precambrian album), Isis and Neurosis but there’s plenty more at work here, including the bass-heavy, elemental sludge of early Soundgarden and ultimately the band have taken their influences and mixed them up so utterly with elements of their own personality that the end result is a beautiful, seething, unique work of power and ecstasy. Second track ‘above’ which mixes in field recordings with the bands rolling percussive assault is equally impressive while the delicate opening guitars weave fractal patterns around the soothing, multi-tracked vocals. The result is a sublime track that perfectly counterpoints the raw bludgeoning power of the previous track. Better than both is the swirling psychedelic blast of ‘miasma’ which appears out of a swirl of noise before crushing you under the unstoppable grind of hyper-speed drums and twisted guitars. Elements of Mastadon are present in the composition, but really this is no more than offering a vague reference point and the feel is substantially different to that band in the overall scheme of things.  Certainly the drums are a point of wonder and Danny Walker’s playing is simply overwhelming, and the likely cause of many a professional drummer to break down in tears upon hearing his monumental work here.

Having drawn out the lengthy ‘miasma’ to its logical conclusion, the band suddenly put the pedal to the metal for the crushing ‘Sunderance’ which holds back on the lengthy, jam feel of the earlier tracks and concentrates on blasting your brain straight out of your cranium. It’s a great track that proves that Intronaut have not only brains but also the brawn to back them up and you can guarantee this one will be a live favourite. After the short bluster of the previous track, ‘Core relations’ is a longer, more progressive affair that recalls nothing so much as Pink Floyd’s later work with its gently echoing guitar lead and throbbing bass. It’s a soft, effortlessly interesting track that showcases the diversity of intronaut’s appeal and range. ‘Below’ heralds a more math-core edge with complex, jazzy drumming and over-wrought guitars duelling it out while the excellent vocals retain their melodic edge throughout. It’s a strong track but it lacks the vital urgency of ‘Elegy’ which stands out as one of the highlights of this excellent disc. Taking the award for most brain-fryingly amazing track on the whole album, however, is the tribal genius that is the title track. A simply astonishing statement of intent this up there with Tool’s ‘Aenima’ as a miraculous piece of art and this record would be worth the price of admission if this was the only track on it – it’s that good. Final track ‘past tense’ is a suitably wondrous album closer that echoes the percussive assault of its predecessor and rounds things out nicely.

Finding superlatives enough for Intronaut is a tough job that would require the extensive use of a thesaurus if I wasn’t already a wordy bastard. It’s an amazing, rich, rewarding album that has a considerable depth that will ensure that it remains a firm favourite long after the initial adrenalin rush of the heavier tracks wears off. Certainly in the top ten albums of this year, this is a remarkable achievement and a worthy addition to the shelves of any metal fan. Astounding – this is almost a perfect record with every track a gem that stands on its own merits – intronaut have created a masterpiece.

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