For all of the dizzying extreme prog metal virtuosity displayed on Intronaut's first efforts, 2005's Null EP and 2006's Void LP, the group's great evolutionary leap unquestionably took place on their misleadingly named second full-length, 2008's Prehistoricisms, which saw an already vast compositional arsenal expanded to include broader atmospheric textures, more melody, jazzier sojourns, and even Indian raga. In contrast, Intronaut's next long-player, 2010's Valley of Smoke, was largely inspired by their hometown of Los Angeles… say wha? Allow some clarification: what actually transpired here is that the band chose to interpret some of Tinsel Town's most apocalyptic geological characteristics (its earthquakes, wildfires, smog, etc.) into their highly abstract lyrics, then wed them to yet another set of typically intricate technical metal creations. But while the group's early work proved to be quite suffocating at times, and Valley of Smoke is still guaranteed to stump even the most experienced musical explorers at first listen (or three, or five), its songs also come across as more fluid and smooth; as more of a body of work than anything that preceded them. Where to begin? Well, there's the rhythmic and textural smorgasbord of "Elegy"; the more linear approach of "Above," which sees the quartet encroaching on Isis territory; the highly percussive title track, which gets as wonky as Primus, then throws in a little bossa nova for good measure; not to mention the flashbacks to everyone from Voivod to Cynic to Atheist to John friggin' Coltrane found on otherworldly soundscapes like "Miasma," "Below," and "Past Tense." Of all the album's possible talking points, however, the most obvious is probably Intronaut's first-time use of clean vocals which, along with increasingly frequent 4/4 beats and riffs to match, are meticulously woven into the band's resilient technical mastery, exotic polyrhythms, alien melodic scales, and sore-throat roars. Nonetheless, it's still pretty stunning to learn that the dual harmonies sung by Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick arose from their recently professed love of…Alice in Chains? Who knew? And yet it works, just as most anything seems to work within Intronaut's quasi-infinite musical universe. How else to explain Valley of Smoke's ability to redeem a city accustomed to being eulogized by the likes of Ratt and Mötley Crüe? What small miracle will Intronaut pull off next?
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia