Intronaut’s new album, The Direction of Last Things, is, in their own words, “our most technical, brutal, catchy, and straight up fearless.” For a band that’s re-written the rules on technicality and brutality over the course of five albums—2013’s Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones) sent fans and critics alike in an Intronaut-rules-all frenzy—such a statement is either truth or insanity. We’ll side on truth. For a group of musicians that could go, well, anywhere musically, the decision to pummel and pound must’ve come from somewhere, however. “I really missed making records that not only thought outside the box, but also beat the shit out of you,” guitarist/vocalist Sacha Dunable confesses. “On the past couple records, I think we were really exploring some musical aspects that were experimental, melodic, and less of a primal heavy metal assault. It's all part of the creative journey, so I still love all our records and those parts of our musical DNA, but personally I thought it was time we took our musical evolution and made it do 100 push-ups every morning.”
Intronaut’s other guitarist / vocalist, David Timnick, has a more holistic view of faster, harder, heavier: “I guess, we're just still really in love with what we're doing. We're more focused and inspired than we've ever been. And we've grown and evolved so much together over the last decade that we've managed to overcome a lot of the obstacles often responsible for slowing bands down.”
Certainly, Intronaut aren’t indicating they’re winded or need to be put out to pasture. Formed in 2004 when Venus was in transit, Cassini rubbed nuts with Titan, and NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars, Intronaut—a term that means ‘inner traveler’—would spend the next decade writing, recording, and releasing genre-defying, category-destroying long-players, the first of which was 2006’s Void on the Goodfellow label. Soon after, the Angelenos caught the eyes and ears of Century Media, where they debuted with the incredible Prehistoricisms, and with it a mountain of acclaim from tracks like “The Literal Black Cloud” and video single “Australopithecus”. Over the next seven years, Intronaut would tour with Mastodon, Helmet, Between The Buried And Me, Tool, and Animals as Leaders, while also issuing widely lauded full-lengths in Valley of Smoke and Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones).
If Intronaut came out of the last decade with anything it’s that they’re known purveyors of the progressive. They’ve made a name for themselves through musical, lyrical, and artistic adventures, journeying into a multitude of styles, parlaying the best of their influences and their spirit animals into a force that’s immediately recognizable as Intronaut. Though labeling has its downfalls—‘progressive’, in terms of music, could mean analogous to Genesis, Pink Floyd, or Porcupine Tree—Dunable has a different view on the term and its possibly tenuous association to the band. “I think our definition of ‘progressive’ has always been different than most people’s. I consider anything with an innovative spirit behind it to be progressive. It has very little to do with actual musical ability and everything to do with translating the insane noises in your head into music, and not deriving from something that exists already.”
“I suppose it's supposed to have something to do with being musically forward-thinking,” Timnick adds. “And I guess that is the word to describe us, but it's a pretty vague term that usually just means complex music with odd time signatures, musical unpredictability, etc. Which is honestly pretty accurate.”
As for The Direction of Last Things, it’s absolutely ‘progressive’ by Dunable and Timnick’s definition. Moored by uncompromising opener “Fast Worms”, mid-album stunner “The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing” and the expansive complexity of closer “City Hymnal”, Intronaut’s fifth long-player is likely the group’s best yet. It summarizes the accomplishments of the past with the vision of the present, where songs violently crash against towering walls of stone or coruscate brilliantly into streams of awesome. What’s particularly fantastic about The Direction of Last Things is that it’s memorable. Whether it’s the vocal melodies of “Digital Gerrymandering” or the unbelievable near-instrumental journey of “Sul Ponticello”, or the wicked riffs throughout the title track, Intronaut were careful to make the intricate and the sinuous a quick study.
“The prog side of us is about creating little ‘easter eggs’ for the listener to discover every time they spin the record, and not necessarily about flashy musicianship,” reveals Dunable. “Just like our favorite records growing up, it’s supposed to be challenging but still get stuck in your head.”
Unlike most studio sessions of the day, Intronaut didn’t spend inordinate amounts of time and effort pinning down The Direction of Last Things in the studio. They didn’t take weeks tuning a snare drum or days figuring out which shoelaces to wear while cutting the rhythm guitars. No, the Californians spent a grand total of four days, recording mostly as a live band, with producer/engineer Josh Newell at Clear Lake Audio. “We decided that we don't need to spend three weeks in a studio obsessing over every minute nuance,” says Dunable. “The reality is that in that past, we've taken that approach, but then we go on tour and play all those songs tightly. So why not just write the songs, rehearse the hell out of them, and then just go play them in an awesome recording studio? Intronaut is an actual band who rehearses together regularly. We make up one collective musical brain. There's no reason why we couldn't just have someone set up some mics, hit record, and capture that. We ended up making our best sounding record in a third of the time.”
“We really wanted to capture what we actually sound like,” Timnick adds. “And we had been having trouble achieving that on our previous records, so it was time to try something different. We've always tried to be a true ‘live’ band, so this approach worked out well for us.”
The advantage of recording The Direction of Last Things expediently was that Intronaut could re-direct the budget to the mix. Which they did. They pulled in famed producer/musician/madman Devin Townsend to make Intronaut’s fifth full-length hit with heaviness and clarity. With Newell as producer/engineer and Townsend as mixer, songs like “Fast Worms”, “City Hymnal”, “The Pleasant Surprise”, and “The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing” sound just as vibrant and full on a set of earbuds as they do on a pair of stereo speakers.
But the most remarkable thing about Intronaut and The Direction of Last Things is that they continue to challenge. Not just themselves, but the boundaries of what it means to be heavy and what it means to be progressive. That Intronaut confront the mundane and the accepted so easily is equal parts talent and vision. “We have been a band for over ten years,” says Dunable. “At this point our influences have been mashed up in a blender for so long that I couldn't even really tell you what they are anymore. All of that is just part of our DNA now, and Intronaut has become its own living, breathing organism that music flows out of naturally.”