You may or may not have heard of Intronaut, but any fan of well-written music with a heavier bent owes it to themselves to check out their new album, Valley of Smoke. It is an album in the truest sense of the word, meant to be taken in as a whole piece, not dissected into compartmentalized chunks. Some may categorize it as “Post Metal,” and it does share some common ground with bands like Isis and Pelican, but it’s far more uptempo than most of those bands’ output. Dry lung vocals accentuate the band’s newly revealed clean singing, instead of dominating as they did on their last album, Prehistoricisms, which very well may gain them a wider audience.
Both guitarists, Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick, contribute vocals on Valley of Smoke, and exhibit a more diverse dynamic range than ever before. The guitar work is exactly what you’d expect from the group: down-tuned and brutal at times, juxtaposed with delay-laden clean riffs. Never overplaying or showing off, they play exactly what should be played to better each song.
The world class rhythm section — Danny Walker on drums and Joe Lester on bass — is just as tight as they’ve ever been. Both push even farther than before on their respective instruments, and gel the proceedings together phenomenally. They get to really showcase themselves on the title track, an 8:34 instrumental. The notable thing about the track, is that it features an additional percussion/drum track courtesy of Timnick pulling double duty, and secondary bass duties by Justin Chancellor of Tool. Lester’s fretless lines, in combination with Chancellors more chord heavy work, lead to some awesome interplay between the two.
This music, and this band, are perfect examples of why I love vinyl: it’s a truly active listening experience. You can’t just queue up 10 hours of music and go dust your house. The format at its base level insists you listen and pay attention, and this album deserves that and more. The sludgy guitars remain clear in the mix on the LP, while the bass and drums fill their sonic territory perfectly, benefiting from the richness of the format. The album excels in a couple of ways the mp3’s don’t, and they’re typical observations I have with most vinyl to mp3 comparisons I’ve done so far. With the warmth that the vinyl affords, the bass guitar and drums have a more rounded tone, while feeling as though they carry more weight, and the vocals are less harsh during the more guttural sections. They aren’t huge differences, but they’re different nonetheless, especially when contrasted in a good set of headphones, like AKG’s K 702 open-back cans. The analog experience just works for this album.
There’s not a single track on Valley of Smoke that I don’t like, which is extremely rare for me these days. It’s not an album that delivers all it has to offer on first listen, however. This is music that needs to be revisited to grasp the full concept of what’s happening. If I had to narrow it down to a couple of must listen highlights, I’d suggest, “Elegy,” “Above,” and the title cut. As I said, though, this is an opus that most definitely needs to be enjoyed as a whole.
For the those of you who haven’t been bitten by the analog bug, or if you just want to give the album a quick whirl, Amazon has Valley of Smoke in mp3 format with a digital booklet, for the almost-cheap-as-free price of $5.99.
**A caveat to anyone who picks this up on vinyl. My copy suffered what I like to call “spindle schmutz.” Excess material that is inside the spindle hole on the record, leftover from the pressing, and I’ve had it on a lot of the newer vinyl I’ve gotten. I wasn’t paying attention, and pushed my copy down on my turntable, thereby lodging it onto the platter. I had to really work at it to separate the two, and significantly scratched the first few tracks on side A, bad enough that I need to buy another copy of the album. When the two were freed, I also lost hold of the platter and it dinged my tables plinth. So please, learn from my stupid mistake. And as always, never ever enjoy music without first ensuring that you have a schmutz-free hole.