Full disclosure: I love Intronaut. Reviewing an album from one of your favorite bands can be tough; you want to be fair, but listening to music is a subjective experience. If you like something, you just plain like it. When I listen to Intronaut, I just plain like it. That said, I try to recognize when a band doesn’t live up to its potential just as much as when they do. I felt very strongly that their previous record, Habitual Levitations, was a letdown. It wasn’t a bad album, per se, but it lacked many of the elements of Intronaut’s sound that I feel make them one of the best bands in the contemporary metal landscape. Thankfully, on their newest album, The Direction of Last Things, Intronaut have not only once again mastered another incarnation of their sound, but have quite possibly crafted their finest outing yet.
The Direction of Last Things begins with a breakneck pace. “Fast Worms” wastes no time in jumping straight to what Intronaut do best: laying down heavy, proggy riffs. Immediately, it becomes apparent what kind of album listeners are in for, as Sacha Dunable’s throaty screams erupt from behind the frenzied fingerpicked licks of both Dunable and Dave Timnick; the iconic fretless bass tone of Joe Lester; and masterful drum work of Danny Walker. The sonic weight and impact of the song (not to mention the welcome return of harsh vocals) makes it an effective entry point for the album, and prove that Intronaut are once again creating something different that the works the preceded it.
“Digital Gerrymandering” further cements this, opening with angular, atonal chords packed with enough low end to rattle your jaw. In terms of composition, however, “Digital gerrymandering” is a slower and more thoughtful track, harkening back to Habitual Levitation’s quieter and jazzier sound. Sacha’s vocals shine once again, showing off his range with clean singing and harmonies. The track closes with polyrhythmic melodies that recall the music of one-man post-metal/prog outfit, Cloudkicker (who Intronaut happened to play as the live backing band for on a recent tour, and even released a live album as “Cloudkicker & Intronaut”). From there, “The Pleasant Surprise” lives up to its name, pummeling the listener with a quick four-minute banger that is likely the fastest and heaviest song the band has recorded in years.
Like all Intronaut albums, the moment-to-moment energy of Direction ebbs and flows, but those changes are much more extreme. The heavier moments are heavier, the faster moments faster, and the atmospheric moments more expansive and memorable — the second half of the album especially so. “In the Unlikely Event” meanders (in a good way) through post-metal before bottoming out in a crushing sludge midsection, then gently returns to the post-metalisms and a subtle, groovy guitar solo gentles fades out the track. “Sul Ponticello’s” explodes with a blistering metallic opening that persists for a few moments before entering head-first into prog territory, which continues into the title track “The Direction of Last things.” On this song, Intronaut seemed to have fit every era of their sound into five short minutes without it feeling bloated or superfluous. The final track, “City Hymanl” evokes similar classic progressive and atmospheric sludge records Crack the Skye and Wavering Radiant, with jazzy, post-metal passages that crescendo into a powerful anthemic melody with triumphant vocal harmonies.
For those familiar with Intronaut, it will be no surprise to hear that the musicianship on Direction is superb. But what is noteworthy is how Intronaut are able to return to the styles of their previous albums and meld them into something new. Habitual Levitations focussed acutely on the slower, jazzier and more atmospheric elements of Intronaut’s sound; Valley of Smoke and Prehistoricisms were winding journeys of progressive sludge; and Void somehow managed to make every moment heavy-as-lead, even the quieter and expansive interludes. Direction is an amalgamation of all these releases, but it doesn’t feel haphazard nor mismatched, which is the direct result of both Intronaut’s skills as musicians and songwriters, and Devin Townsend’s ace producing.
We’re nearing the end of the year, and that means people are beginning to cull their lists for the best albums of the year. Speaking for myself, Direction of Last Things has very quickly squeezed itself into the upper-tier entries on that list, and I feel confident in saying it is the apex of whatever genre (post-atmospheric-prog-sludge-metal) it belongs to. Intronaut have taken the ideas and lessons they learned on their previous efforts, and, like all great bands do, have pushed beyond their limits to make something special.