Intronaut – Valley Of Smoke
In 2008, Valley Of Smoke is more along the lines of what I was asking of Intronaut in their post-Void fallout. Some semblance of naivety has parted in 2010, but the DNA of the band is still producing as per original instructions – Intronaut crafts and exploits layers of heavy music history, and using layers in this way always seemed to form sensations greater than the sum of their parts, like some kind of montage budding ideas that only came to be in the mind of its audience. Yeah, Valley Of Smoke continues to adopt this mission statement as their back catalog did, and is better for it. Smoke is contrapuntally… masterful, and often taps into that worldly grandiosity that these four understand too well. Yet while this new release is scrying well into becoming a memorable disc, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that previous album Prehistoricisms (perhaps accidentally) expounded their sound in a way no one would have predicted. Since Smoke is more (for lack of a better word) conventional, the dissection of their formula since the release of Prehistoricisms has confined these new songs. It’s hard to doubt their quality and the ever-increasing prowess of the band itself when the too-familiar melodies in “Miasma” are replicated in the astonishingly moving way that they are, but nonetheless, Prehistoricisms possessed that strength in spades without the conventional.
Their groove-based approach is the element that has developed most effectively, and while not as slamming in the way that “The Literal Black Cloud” was, transformational rhythms in “Sunderance” don’t require a bobbing head to be felt. A good majority of the instrumental “Valley Of Smoke” plays with this new system (including the return of a Danny Walker and Dave Timnick dual-percussion experiment) best. Weaker songs in the middle album slog such as “Core Relations” and “Below” range from compositional sloppiness to being just plain banal. And then we have the strongest act of the album with the title track and finale “Past Tense” (a clever title and one that temporally guesses at how listeners will receive Valley Of Smoke‘s sound). Joe Lester carefully reigns in his fretless bass technique, which in turn pulls it back from being the band’s gimmick (again, “Valley Of Smoke” exhibits this best)… Although in many ways, it’s his anchoring note patterns themselves that bobble between too obvious and being ancillary to the stronger six-string presence on Smoke.
As for some other highlights, Sacha Dunable and Timnick’s vocal applications are fully realized; the gruff orations feel moar metuhl in that unapologetic Relapse Records way (and it works for them, believe me), but the more realized (and harmonized) intoning simply add more dimension to the controlled layering arrangements. It’s also the best sounding album of the year, and Josh Newell has balanced crushing tone with auras of listenability in a big budget way that simply cannot be conquered by any other outfit this year – If ever there was a band to show off some recording and production heroism, it would be Intronaut. And so the band remains progressive insofar as their own creations spin off and propel themselves forward with an inspired conception – And in that manner, Valley Of Smoke owns a to-be-expected strength. Yet, in light of their off-the-grid madness that typified Prehistoricisms, this really does feel like backtracking into territory they did not need to revisit. As such, it is the weakest full-length of their (hopefully) expanding discog.