The classic stopgap album serves as an aural appetizer, satiating hunger on the way to the next big, all-original statement. With The Challenger, Intronaut gives us a whole fucking three-course meal of a between-album release: three new studio tracks, five live recordings, and a remix, all spread over fifty-five minutes. Treading water it may be, but The Challenger reaffirms that Intronaut doggy-paddles in an entirely different swimming pool than does the rest of the metal world.
These guys put out the best metal album of 2006 (Void) by a healthy stretch, so there’s no disappointment that the studio tracks don’t push Intronaut anywhere new in terms of songwriting. The title track summarizes everything that is great about this band, from its cavalcade of cancerous guitar riffs to the way the rhythm section generates and regenerates its own kinetic energy even as it rams through squiggly time signatures. Post-metal guitars slosh around “Whittler of Fortune” and morph into metallic ziggurats; snatches of melody and groove are buried in the blueprint of “Deep Architecture,” the last line of which (“Creation is undone/ Stopped in its tracking/ Truly profound/ Deep architecture”) may as well describe Intronaut’s writing process.
Sacha Dunable and Leon del Muerte’s death-metal growls benefit from the rawness of the live recordings on The Challenger. Otherwise there’s really no reason to listen to them, unless you need proof that the members of Intronaut can carry off their complex songs live (they can). Dunable’s remix of “Burning These Days” is equally inessential. But this band’s odds ’n’ sods are better than most band’s meat ’n’ potatoes, so the filler’s forgiven. At this point, Intronaut can do nearly no wrong.