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Simon reports on Intronaut’s long-awaited return to London, playing with Scale The Summit, Astrohenge and SedulusIntronaut Scale The Summit European tour poster

Last time Intronaut played at this venue, at the tail end of 2011, they were opening the show for Ghost Brigade and A Storm Of Light. With a punishingly early stage time, they played to barely 50 people, so it was encouraging to find significantly more punters than that in the building when I arrived, half an hour or so after the doors opened.

Sedulus were already onstage as I made my way through the venue, with a respectably sized crowd watching them lurch through their set of Isis and Neurosis-inspired post/stoner hybrid.

The London-based quartet acquit themselves reasonably well; they’re a tight unit, and the heavier sections are agreeably hefty. Things do come a little unstuck in the quieter passages, though – perhaps due to monitor placement, vocalist/bassist Will doesn’t quite hit the notes he was aiming for when singing, which is a pity. Sometimes, the band as a whole is guilty of simply playing too many notes, where a simpler riff may have been more effective. Additionally, their songs do feel long for the sake of being long. There’s not a single track in the three EPs available online which is less than six minutes long.

Sedulus certainly aren’t terrible, but at the same time there’s nothing particularly remarkable about their set as it stands.

It’s barely been a fortnight or so since I last wrote about Astrohenge, so I think we can just leave them to one side this time around. If you want to see what I wrote about them then, it can be found here.

The fretboard watchers were out in force for Scale The Summit. The instrumental four piece from Texas deliver what can only be described as a virtuoso performance of their technical prog-metal, and the response is rapturous.

The band barely put a finger wrong as they spider their way through the tracks, and it is a genuine delight for low-end aficionados such as myself to see all six strings of an extended range bass used so effectively.

But however well the band deliver the tracks, its hard to escape the similarities between them. So once the band had played my personal favourite track – “Whales“, from 2011′s The Collective – my attention does start to wander a little, and the shortcomings of an instrumental band start to show. Scale The Summit’s set is virtually flawless as a technical exercise, but just a little too clinical to be properly absorbing on an emotional level.

Intronaut take to the stage to be greeted by a slightly smaller crowd than Scale The Summit, but the response is still warm as they slip comfortably into “Milk Leg”, from this year’s stunning Habitual Levitations.

I thought the album was a real leap forward for the band’s sound – you can read my full thoughts on the album here – and the more restrained, refined approach translates particularly well to the live environment.  The interweaving guitar lines, vocal melodies and jazz-inspired interludes sound crisp and clear.

The slightly quirky layout of the Underworld, with it’s inconveniently placed support pillars, means that a void opens up towards the right of the stage, which is where I choose to stand. It means I can’t see Sacha Dunable, except for when he steps back from his microphone. But this vantage point does give me an unobstructed view of drummer Danny Walker and bass player Joe Lester.

Without wanting to depreciate the contributions of Sacha and co-guitarist/vocalist Dave Timnick, the rhythm section is where the action is for me in terms of visual spectacle. I can’t think of many other pairings as accomplished and engaging as Danny and Joe, so watching them play is an unqualified delight. The set contains moments so spectacular that they make me laugh out loud in delight and disbelief.

Intronaut’s twisting song structures and love of unconventional time signatures are a bit of a double-edged sword. For the initiated, they are hugely satisfying – but for those unfamiliar with their work, the tracks can be a little difficult to follow. I’m far more familiar with Habitual Levitations than their previous albums, so I had a foot in both camps. I certainly saw members of the crowd trying to nod along and getting slightly flummoxed.

But even with the minor difficulties in keeping up, the set is properly immersive, to the point I barely even notice the visuals projected onto the back wall – although some footage of someone having a boxing match with a kangaroo does catch my attention.

The set culminates with the extended percussive onslaught of Prehistoricism’s “Any Port”, with Danny’s astonishing rhythms augmented by Dave on a trio of toms, Joe and Sacha exit the stage and leave the pair to – literally – hammer home the finale. It is breathtaking stuff.

It’s also immediately clear that there will be no encore. Generally, this is a practice I favour, but I am left slightly disappointed that “The Welding” is omitted from the set – but, the band has spent most of this year on the road, and they can’t play everything every night, and having seen a set of such quality, I don’t feel short-changed.  Maybe they’ll play it next time.