Intronaut, Scale the Summit, North, Agamemnon
March 23, 2016
For a certain subset of heavy-metal fans, the distorted crunch doesn’t get interesting until a little arithmetic is factored into the proceedings. And for those who worship at the altar of looping, odd-time guitar riffs, Wednesday night’s show at Walters had been a distant beacon of hope for weeks. L.A.’s proggy, premiere post-metal act, Intronaut, was due back in town, to be supported by local maestros Scale the Summit, Arizona’s atmospheric North and jazzy punishers Agamemnon. If you prefer your guitar breakdowns spiked with a side of fractions, this was a weeknight show you couldn’t miss.
Fans showed up early and orderly at Walters on Wednesday, clearly eager to get things under way. It wasn’t a rowdy crowd; there wasn’t a lot of headbanging as the local openers in Agamemnon folded odd-time polyrhythms into sick little shuffles onstage. Instead, the large, polite throng of metalheads folded their arms, scratched their chins and thoughtfully considered the band’s music as it unfolded. It was hard to blame them. Frankly, it was tough not to just stand and stare as Agamemnon twisted triplet patterns into strange new fractals on their new song “Purple Reign.” When they finished, they were favored with calmly enthusiastic applause.
The heady, sedate mood in the room continued next for North. The heavy trio broke out some droning guitar passages to start before transitioning into their Neurosis-tinged sludge epics. As is common at Walters, the crowd left a little elbow room in the center of the floor in case anybody wanted to mosh, but to most everyone’s quiet relief, nobody did. Most of us, instead, were content to sip a craft beer or three and just let North’s imaginative, bottom-heavy assault wash over us.
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The air of sophistication grew even, er, heavier as Scale the Summit began setting up next. The Houston-based band can’t help but stand out on any bill — not just because they’re a progressive instrumental act, but because they’re proud enough of it to hawk their own sheet music and guitar books at their shows. They definitely sold a few more on Wednesday, too, as they filled the venue with endless drum fills and fingerboard taps.
Scale the Summit is the kind of band that forces you to count. There are some snatches of common time in their music, sure, but they’re sandwiched in between innumerable permutations of 7/8, 5/8 and 3/4 time, creating strange, oscillating beats and riffs. Sweet, slick Steve Vai guitar leads welded all the angular breakdowns together. And if pulling off those feats of time-signature calculus weren’t impressive enough, they all had to be precisely performed along to a click track to ensure perfect synchronization with the band’s impressive digital video projections. It was a lot to take in: Bang your head, and you might miss a note.
The rolling bass-drum intro into Scale the Summit’s very “YYZ”-like tune “Origin of Species” certainly offered a helpful hint as to the group’s musical inspirations, but even Neil Peart himself might have found the percussive crunch of headliners Intronaut to be a bit off-putting. The bright attack of the drums and bass underpinned brutally harmonized vocals as the band unspooled long and staggering polyrhythmic passages one after another. Scale the Summit may force you to begin counting beats, but with Intronaut, that proved near impossible. Standing stock-still and quiet, most of the crowd simply seemed to get lost in the sea of interlocking notes.
Clearly, a lot of hard work and money go into making Intronaut sound as tight as they do, with both guitarists employing some of the largest pedal boards in the biz. The group’s towering, pristine speaker cabinets were powerful enough for rooms much larger than Walters’, and the computerized lighting array that the group brought with them was probably the best, most impressive setup in the history of the club. Along with the psychedelic video projected on the screen behind them, Intronaut’s stage dressing went a long way toward making them sound as epic as they were shooting for.
As the clock headed past midnight, the crowd had thinned out a bit. After all, it didn’t take a math wizard to add up the hours we were subtracting from our sleep cycle. But it was hard not to linger as Intronaut showered us with ever more cascading triplets, and judging by the enthusiastic applause toward the end, they saved their most popular stuff for last.
When it was over, folks filed out as calmly and orderly as they came in. Most of us were quiet, but the inspiration alight behind people’s eyes was plain. Many of those audience members will no doubt be locked away in their practice rooms soon, trying to work out how that 7/8 pattern transitioned so seamlessly into 3/4.
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Personal Bias: Never made it past pre-cal.
The Crowd: Neatly trimmed and polite.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Are you gonna get the owl shirt?”
Random Notebook Dump: The installation of the Deep End Records shop in Walter’s front room remains ingenious.