11/7/2008 - Review by: Etiam
In retrospect, Intronaut's formula is so clever and so simple (in theory, not performance) that it's a wonder so few bands have attempted it. Seizing on two of the decade's most popular metal subgenres--technical metalcore and soundscaping--Intronaut find a compromise that is more accessible, yet no less legitimate. Disparate tempos, proportions of discord and harmony, open chord strophes versus unconventional arpeggios, et cetera--all are pulled together into a moderate whole that is intellectual without being pedantic and visceral without being plain.
This 2007 EP, 'The Challenger', falls between the band's two LP's: 'Void' released in '06 and 'Prehistoricisms' just recently in '08. As with their other releases, 'The Challenger' carries over some harmonic structures and chord progressions from either aforementioned genre, but at more reasonable tempos (i.e. slower than 240 bpm and faster than 24) that helps the audience to appreciate the intertwining flow. Vocal duties are shared between guitarists Sascha Dunable and Leon Del Muerte (in his last Intronaut appearance), and like the compositions, their timbres would serve for either a tech metalcore or soundscaping band, though their inflections and certainly their lyrics favor the latter. Yet, of all the accomplished performances on 'The Challenger', the most impressive comes from Danny Walker on the drums. With freewheeling dexterity, he dances from one interpretation of the meter to another without confusing the listener or overtaking his band-mates. Of the many technical metal drummers who aspire to jazz artistry, the graceful Walker is one of the few who succeeds.
'The Challenger' is intriguing for its pivotal position in this young band's discography. To speak (perhaps too) broadly: if 'Void' were two-thirds tech metalcore inspired and one-third experimental, 'The Challenger' is closer to an equal balance, while their new album, 'Prehistoricisms', seems to be continuing the redshift. On 'The Challenger', Intronaut are also more willing than before to directly integrate the two styles, rather than leaping from one to the next with limited intermingling. This mixture produces such enthralling songs as as 'Whittler of Fortune', where an arcing melodic form is complemented by agitated offbeat percussion. As the song continues, the conflicting rhythms dance around a resolution until the 7/4 climax, where the bass drums pound out straight 16th notes to which each motif can finally groove along. In this way, 'Whittler of Fortune' embodies the band's evolution--polyrhythms used to serve a larger purpose, not as showy gimmicks, veiled lyrics with compelling turns of phrase, and a smooth integration of styles brings out the unique qualities of each, rather than stifling them.
The remainder of 'The Challenger's new tracks are comparable, if not quite as immediately striking, and it's a shame that this EP doesn't include more new material. Of the EP's ten tracks (its duration is nearly 50 minutes), five are live recordings, taken from two different performances, one is a listenable remix by Dunable, and the last, a throwaway 'hidden track'. To their credit, Intronaut's live offerings on this EP are of an unexpectedly high fidelity, and offer a new perspective on the group's dynamic. Live, the vocals take on a bit more death metal raggedness and the instrumentation seems a little more frantic--fitting for songs from the 'Null' and 'Void' recordings. Some are arguably improved by a live performance, which allows for the polished edges of the studio tracks to be scuffed by feedback solos and gain clippage.
The first three tracks remain 'The Challenger's strongest selling point, however, and will keep fans' eyes focused on a promising future. Those who enjoy such groups as Burst and Dillinger Escape Plan will appreciate this quickly maturing group and their Translation Loss meets Willowtip alchemy.
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