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Intronaut - The Challenger EP Review

by Mark Hensch

Every bit as challenging as it is triumphant, Intronaut's new EP, the Challenger, is a stimulating hodge-podge of various forms of extremity. Meant to tide over fans both old and new during the process of writing a follow-up to 2006's Void, the Challenger soars to dizzying heights and back down to crushing lows. Through it all, the band meshes atmospheric sludge with dexterous jazz rhythms and vast, mammoth arrangements in a way no other band can.

As if to earn its very title, the Challenger blazes through a roaring 55 minutes of music or so, shattering metal conventions left and right on the way. Though only three new studio tracks are on offer here, the handful of live cuts and a remix or two showcases a band wildly ahead of the curve.

Things kick off with the polyrhythmic title track. "Challenger" attacks with machine-gun drumming complicated, constant, and airtight; the guitars, meanwhile, weave intricate tapestries of fast-paced, organic sludge. The whole thing sounds like a less melodic ISIS turned into algebraic mathematics ala Meshuggah, and the frequent tempo-shifts give ample evidence of this.

The magnificent "Whittler of Fortune" drifts by on ethereal, carefree notes that glimmer and dance. Intronaut next takes this already unusual melody and turns it into a slowly-dying tremolo-rhythm backed by wave after wave of crushing guitar. Cathartic and energetic, the song jogs through woozy passages of gentle fuzz while dual singers Dave Timnick and Sacha Dunable rage and roar. Never afraid to shift on a dime, this perhaps the catchiest yet most complex song I've heard for quite some time.

Things are no more straightforward with follow-up "Deep Architecture." "Architecture" lazily winds through oldschool Cave In like atmospherics, only to explode into a pounding beast with all the kinetic fury of a tossing ocean. The whole thing whips itself into a jazzy, bone-breaking tempest, a veritable workout in mixed brutality and challenging progression.

The EP next move into live renditions of many of the band's various earth-shaking compositions. The song "Gleamer" is up first, rattling with barely-contained potential energy. This ominous low-end riffage soon explodes into a maelstrom of deep, swirling chaos, only to taper off into an ambient passage complete with scratchy, psychedelic guitar work. It sounds great, and the fiery crowd responds in kind.

A live version of "Fault Lines" fairs equally well. The songs worms its way into the earlobes like splintering cracks in the Earth; the bass lines are dexterous and flexible, backing a wall of pounding sound. Eerie movie samples bob in-and-out of the sonic whirlpool, further adding to the chaos.

"Rise to the Midden" is no-holds-barred sludge. Half Converge vitriol, half Neurosis catharsis, "Midden" is all business. It is no doubt that its greatest moment is a period of melody-tinged guitars flailing around a sucking vortex of percussion. For a live track, this is remarkably crisp in its crushing power.

The same can be said for the blitzkrieg of "Sores Will Weep." "Weep" features up-tempo drumming careening with the band's kaleidoscopic, dull roaring. As if this wasn't enough, the riffs crackle and pop like exploding stars, leading into a Mars Volta worthy passage of shimmering lounge psychedelia.

"They (As in them)" starts off with a drum intro which must be killer live, only to wander through seemingly random Meshuggah-esque technicality. Said technicality is actually much more sensible at first glance, the song eventually moving into expansive vistas of soothing sound.

The disc closes with a remix of "Burning These Days" and joke track "[Untranslated]." Having not heard the original version of "Burning These Days," I won't comment on it much; suffice it to say that the remix is a fresh, funky blend of icy electronica beats and gradual buildups into grimy Godflesh worship. "[Untranslated]," meanwhile, gives a chance for Intronaut to mess around a bit with a funny little skit disguised as a sound-check. Though not serious, the laughs earned are genuine and the rest of the CD is excellent anyways.

For a mere EP, the Challenger contains a heady mix of aggression, innovation, and evolution. Intronaut are pushing the boundaries of heavy music in new directions, and anyone who likes their music memorable but fresh will find something entertaining here. I highly recommend it.

Intronaut's the Challenger EP
1. The Challenger
2. Whittler of Fortune
3. Deep Architecture
4. Gleamer (Live)
5. Fault Lines (Live)
6. Rise to the Midden (Live)
7. Sores will Weep (Live)
8. They (As in them) (Live)
9. Burning These Days (Remix)
10. [Untranslated]

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Intronaut - The Challenger EP


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