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This is the world premiere of audio from Intronaut‘s new album Valley of Smoke, which has a tentative release date of October 12 on Century Media. The song is called “Elegy”.
I’ve heard it live three times, at two Intronaut gigs in Los Angeles this summer, and at the first show of their ongoing tour with Cynic and Dysrhythmia. (See dates below.) Each time it set the crowd alight. It plays to Intronaut’s strengths: a ridiculously limber rhythm section, expansive guitars, and did I mention a ridiculously limber rhythm section? Like his position onstage, Joe Lester’s bass is front and center. Danny Walker pushes and pulls against it with crisp, colorful percussion.
The new element is singing. This also happened to a band Intronaut is often compared to, Mastodon. Unlike Mastodon’s, however, Intronaut’s singing is firm but understated, and reminds me of Fugazi. On their latest albums, Coliseum and Kylesa have also sung more, with obvious Fugazi influences. Perhaps letting the Fugazi flag fly is what today’s metallers do when they discover that their voices can do more than just yell.
This track is a final, unmastered mix. It sounds great, with bite in the guitars and lively stereo imaging. Let’s hope that those things survive mastering. Intronaut’s last album, Prehistoricisms, suffered from the over-compressed mastering that’s epidemic in today’s metal. As a result, Walker’s drums went thud, not snap like they normally do. Here they snap, and are a joy to hear.
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I observed one night of the Valley of Smoke recording sessions. This is what I saw.
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Clear Lake Audio
North Hollywood, CA
May 26, 2010
Sacha Dunable is screwing up. That’s what recording is: screwing up until you have the perfect take – or enough material for studio magic. Dunable sits next to producer Josh Newell, who makes him play take after take. I don’t hear much wrong, and I’d like to think that I have good ears. But Newell is in the producer’s chair because he has better ears than mine. His ears are hearing less-than-perfect takes. So he stops Dunable every so often, moves the cursor back in Pro Tools, and says, “Do that again”.
Dunable is incredibly stoic about it. Not only is Newell telling him that his playing isn’t good enough, so are his bandmates Dave Timnick (guitar) and Joe Lester (bass). When one member of Intronaut records, the others are there to critique his performance. (Walker is the exception. After recording his drums, he leaves the sessions. He just doesn’t like being around for such details.) So Dunable has three people breathing down his neck, plus two observers in the room, me and a friend of the band. You’d think that recording would be a private activity. No one likes to screw up in front of other people. But here Dunable is, patiently screwing up in front of all of us.
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Recording grinds to a halt when Timnick discovers that Walker has screwed up. In one bar, he misplaced a kick drum by something small, like half a beat. Evidently the kick is an essential accent in the song. Anxious discussion ensues. Newell suggests moving the kick via Pro Tools to the correct place. The alternative, of course, would be getting Walker back into the studio to play that kick. That’s ludicrous, so Newell moves the kick. This disturbs me briefly. Of course, one function of studios is to perform studio magic. But Intronaut’s music is very organic. They are not the type of band that is assembled in Pro Tools. So it’s jarring to see them use studio magic to fix an error. Still, it’s not like (a) they’re putting Walker’s entire performance through studio magic, or (b) one could tell anyway.
Problem solved – time for a cigarette break.
Outside, I hear stories of Newell’s higher-profile clients, which include pop stars and nu-metal bands that shall remain unnamed. Evidently one such band, which has been in the studio for the last two years, will take a riff to Newell and ask him to make a chorus out of it. Fixing a kick in Pro Tools suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
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Next is recording feedback for one song. Feedback is not necessarily a spontaneous burst of noise. Tonight it is a sound carefully sculpted in an acoustic enclosure Newell has constructed. While Dunable waves his guitar around and conjures up various pitches of feedback, I chat with Lester in the control room.
Lester is a musician’s musician, with a deep background in jazz and funk. His bandmates have other backgrounds, which creates an interesting dynamic. Walker comes from metal, and his predilection for blastbeats drives Lester up the wall. Once during practice Walker and Lester fell into a funk groove, and Dunable tried to jam along. The way Lester describes Dunable’s lack of rhythm is merciless.
But Intronaut are not jazz or funk or metal so much as they are all those things. A metal drummer, a jazz bassist, and two guitarists – one a polymath and the other very white – can come together to create something singular. That’s clear from what I hear tonight. After feedback recording finishes, the band plays me demos of the new album. They’re fantastic. Walker’s drums and Lester’s bass are instantly recognizable. The musical depth is obvious even without mixing or perfect takes. All that screwing up is in the service of something good.
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INTRONAUT TOUR W/ CYNIC & DYSRHYTHMIA
Jul. 30 – Minneapolis, MN – Station 4
Jul. 31 – Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
Aug. 01 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick
Aug. 02 – Toronto, ON – Opera House
Aug. 04 – Montreal, QC – Café Campus
Aug. 05 – Boston, MA – Harpers Ferry
Aug. 06 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Aug. 07 – Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero
Aug. 08 – Washington, DC – The Rock a – Roll Hotel
Aug. 09 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
Aug. 10 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
Aug. 12 – Orlando, FL – The Social
Aug. 13 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room
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