Intronaut, "Valley of Smoke" (Century Media)
With 2008's "Prehistoricisms," Intronaut cannonballed off the springboard of prog metal into the deep end of heavy psychedelic texturality. It was awesome. Those who prefer the more homogeneous battering that typified the L.A. quartet's earlier art, though, will prefer the new "Valley of Smoke."
Which is also awesome; Intronaut remain leaders in thinking-man's crunch. Having toured with Mastodon and Cynic in the last couple of years, the band have ratcheted up the jag of M., the chime of C. and the cleanside vocal moan of both for a refined and focused sound that could broaden their base.
Intronaut log their biggest advance via rhythm, with crazy counterbeats in "Core Relations" and "Above" blending so naturally that you'll forget four-on-the-floor ever existed. The way bassist Joe Lester's lines bump against the beats with assertive flexibility on "Past Tense," betcha he's been digging some tango and Latin. And the jazziness that's always lurked as a 'Naut subtext has extended into the chords of guitarists Sascha Dunable and Dave Timnick (on the title track for instance); the two have worked out a shimmering, unified partnership. Not to say Intronaut have lost any heft -- listen for brontosauri leaping on cathedral steeples.
Tell ya who'll really blow you away: drummer Danny Walker. Having gotten a load of Mastodon's Brann Dailor, Walker powerpunches hard, deep and free on every damn song, knocking simultaneously with and against the riffs, a regular Tony Williams of metal; dig the way he accents his press rolls on "Miasma."
I kept flashing on Yes, prog founders whom I disdained in the '70s not because they couldn't play, but because they were so prissy and bloated. Intronaut confess neither fault. All they need is a hit single.
Exhausted Prayer, "Worst of All Possible Worlds" (Black Meadow)
If Intronaut pals Exhausted Prayer exhale one main characteristic on "Worst," it's warmth. No joke -- they may blacken with Scandinavian formality, but the way the lush guitars of Swansong and Chris McCarthy goosh together, this ain't no frozen battlefield; it's wrapped in the smelly sheets of depression without recourse to mythic swordplay. Full humanity.
While Exhausted Prayer boast three vocalists with three distinct shades of growl & shriek, "Worst" feels like an instrumental exercise. The structures, textures and densities roll forth like stories, always going somewhere new. The band, together over a decade, stretch with a loose interplay that allows them to pull off the hesitations and decelerando of "I Long for the Peace of a Cemetery," the Spanish thrash (good trick!) of "Silenced" and the lambent explosions of "Can I Ask a Question"; prog fans will eat up the 8-minute closer, "The Brightest Light You'll Ever Know Is of a Dour Hue," with its whipping chordwork, dewy arpeggios and pow-pow beats. The overall pacing, laced with quieter interludes, is ace.
Drummer Mike Caffell can't decide among double-kick, blast beats, thrash and straight rock, so he humps 'em all, usually within one song, and damned if it all doesn't just hang together. E.P. generate such a surging flow, in fact, that when "Worst" was over, I jumped in all over again -- and I never do that with a modern-metal record. (Too, uh, exhausting.)
Think I'll put it on again right now.