Intronaut is one of those bands that I always meant to get around to but never did. With lineups that include(d) members from bands such as Impaled, Exhumed, and Mouth of the Architect, most people know Intronaut even if they have never actually heard them. Having spent the last couple weeks with their near decade-long back-catalog, their debut (Void) stands out to me as perhaps their best release. Aggressive, progressive, and without the typical wankery found in prog metal, Void delivers a mix of impressive instrumentation, great detail, and a familiar harshness found in older Mastodon material. While the band expanded on their skills between Prehistoricisms and Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones), their focus shifted to a slower pace, cleaner vocals, and the incorporation of a post-metal tinge to their sound. Unfortunately, that’s where they lose me. Intronaut have always been good at what they do, but most of their work is right at the verge of being incredible without actually achieving it. However, 2015’s The Direction of Last Things finds the band reincorporating some of that Void aggression, while focusing on more memorable songwriting and a production that trumps all previous releases.
Opener “Fast Worms” begins in a hurry with a speedy lick that threatens to out-run most of the chuggers produced by Mastodon. After alternating between these frenzied riffs and the wide-open chorus, the song comes to a halt before returning to its former self via a smooth-talking Tool build and some reverberating The Ocean guitar melodies. The song ends with a dissonance that resists closure in order to setup The Ocean-meets-Mastodon follow-up “Digital Gerrymandering.” With a soothing chorus, some awesome bass work, and psychedelic guitar rhythms, this eight-minute ditty sets the progressive tone for the rest of the album. Direction feels more “progressive” than its predecessors and the tightness of the performances is mind-boggling (even more impressive considering it was mostly recorded live).
A majority of the album follows the same formula as “Digital Gerrymandering;” a hard-hitting riff straight out of the gates, well-placed harshes and cleans, memorable choruses, down-shifted interludes, and slow builds that eventually erupt into climatic returns to the track’s heavy riffage. “Sul Ponticello” opens with gigantic heaviness in the form of Tooling grooviness before flowering with large pedals of instrumentation and melody. Similar “massiveness” can be found on the title track and “The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing.” One of the better tracks on the album, the title track has some kickass crunch, a beautiful clean-guitar bit in its slower section, and the kind of climatic build that makes the song well worth the journey.
On the extreme ends of Direction, you will find the straightforward and crushing “The Pleasant Surprise” (which really is a pleasant surprise for those aching for some Intronaut bruising) and the long, meandering “The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing.” While the former is a great example of “short and sweet,” the latter overstays its welcome and feels a bit disjointed in execution. It has some good moments buried in its eight-minute length but I feel myself generally tuning out on repeat listens. Closer “City Hymnal” also suffers from lack of staying power even though it does a fine job of concluding Direction with a chorus of layered vocals and sweeping melodies.
Overall, The Direction of Last Things is a decent proggy platter. Though, I’m still partial to Void, this album takes the band to the next level in terms of creating memorable songs that show technicality and impressive musicianship. The heaviness employed is not exactly brutal or fast, but its presence helps give diversity to the music. Thankfully, Intronaut magnified all of this by hiring Devin Townsend on mixing duties. This decision was well worth the money as every instrument comes to life in the mix and the record is a truly dynamic listen. The direction of… well, Direction… works well for the band and with a bit of honing, I expect the next release will be something really special.