When it comes to heavy metal, the best way to completely destroy any credentials you have is to completely alienate your fan base by jumping on the wagon of whatever commercial trend is currently degrading the metal genre. In the 80s Celtic Frost went glam, in the 90s Metallica jumped to “alternative” and In Flames is still withering in alternative metal mediocrity. In the late 2000’s, the next name to be added to that list would be Cryptopsy, when to everyone’s horror, they left their pioneering, tech-death style behind and went deathcore. The backlash was immense, and what little fans the band picked up from the –core scene did little to quell the droves of legitimate fans leaving (not to mention the utter lack of dedication one will find in a scene entirely based on a commercial trend, as opposed to the bands previous style on classics such as None so Vile, which will never be dated and irrelevant). So while some bands never manage to recuperate from total creative damnation, there are some stories with happier endings. If Cryptopsy’s 2012 release is anything to go by, we have another happy ending.
So long story short, yes, Cryptopsy have dropped the deathcore style. While there is certainly a modern influence on this album, focus on breakdowns, whiney –core vocals and generic chug-riffing is vanquished from their slate. In their wake we have the return of lovely, lovely screechy, tremolo picked death metal licks which cut and slice like rusty razor blades. This is what makes death metal for me, and I was more then relived to hear this and brutal riffing was to take back control of the Cryptopsy sound. Then, as the song Two-Pound Torch begins we are instantly pulled in with riffing that one can’t help but head bang too, something Cryptopsy hasn’t been able to do to me since Whisper Supremecy. But while the riffing is generally chaotic and pummelling, we are given riffs that allude to a mild amount of melody and introspection, somewhat similar to the melodic riffs one would find in Swede death bands like Dismember or Unleashed. While these are definitely not that common, they do add a nice contrast to the sinister licks, brutal riffing and chaotic tenure of the album. There’s also quite a few crushing, slower paced riffs that crush your balls, but not in the same way as doom or death/doom would. Either way, the variation in pace is a fresh element and again, adds contrast to the record, something most tech-death lacks painfully.
While the riffs are still plenty technical, it does feel like they were mildly toned down, as a focus on good riffs was probably the priority of the album, and for the most part they pulled that off. This showed me that while It’s clear Flo Mounier is the driving force behind Cryptopsy, it was Jon Levasseur riffs that kept the band on track (seeing as he’s been absent for the past two lacklustre records). His lead work on this record is also a lot more than just Slayer-esque cacophony, belting out solos that, while fitting in a brutal, technical death metal song, have the skill, precision and catchiness of the work found on a progressive or technical thrash metal record – meaning there’s actual melody and a hint of professional scale work at play. Another element I noticed here that really stuck out was the blatant jazz passages near the end of a few songs, namely Red Skinned Scapegoat and Damned Draft Dodgers. Jazz was always the key ingredient to tech death, but never have I heard pure, clean jazz passages akin to Pat Metheny included in a tech-death album. In all honesty, it’s not like they’re amazing and make the song a thousand times better, but they’re neat, and using the same jazz beats and patterns that the metal parts had and then fading into smooth jazz really helps one understand specifically how jazz influences the band’s music.
The bass work on this album is also a lot more present than on previous releases, with the bass getting its own stand alone moments decently often. Not only does it help add to the thickness of the higher pitched, screeching riffs, but the pop and smashes that Olivier incorporates into his style helps with the impact of the music’s punch. My only gripe is that his stand alone bass lines were a little too distorted, so they came off as being purely rhythmical instead of adding a sinister tone to the heavier riffs. While vocalist Matt McGachey definitely isn’t a regular to this style (his claim to fame was in a metalcore band, hence why he was picked up for The Unspoken King), he really does well to actually compete with the bands most popular vocalist, Lord Worm. He too utilizes an indecipherable, guttural roar that fits with the blasting, heavy riffing. I admit, due to his presence on the 2007 input, I don’t think he’ll ever be a fan favourite, but on this record he shows that he is competent, and I forgive him for whatever missteps he was asked to do on Unspoken King. And then there’s Flo. Oh Flo, how godly you still are. The man definitely didn’t let the Unspoken King debacle water down his drumming forever, as the man blasts, smashes and double-bass’s through this record like the champ of tech-death drumming he is. His rhythm almost always perfectly fits into the riffing, and when he goes into the jazz-orientated elements of the album, the speed of your head spinning reaches light speed. The riffs that beg head banging are obliged when his thunderous fills come in and really, without his expertise drumming, this record would be less interesting.
In terms of structuring, the only purposeful placement seems to be in the track order. This is probably one of the first tech-death records I’ve heard where the track listing actually matters, because if you don’t start on Two-Pound Torch, you’re going to experience a less exciting record. This is mainly because every song helps set up for the next one within itself, the jazz passages (which help set up songs which are more brutal and technical) are an example of this. Other than that, that songs pretty much do whatever they want: stopping, slowing down and speeding up on random, keeping true with the free-form ideology of jazz. The production is incredibly modern, definitely being akin to what one would expect from the newer players in death metal today (Ulcerate, Job For a Cowboy, Hour of Penance). The volume of more or less everything is pushed to the max, and other than the bass guitar, everything is on equal terms with each other, effectively melding the units into a whole. This helps with the atmosphere of the album, which is generally of the raging and chaotic variety, but there are passages and riffs that evoke feelings of woe, hope and insanity as well, and having each aspect in full form helps cement these moods.
All in all, this is a very solid recovery. Rarely does a tech-death album grab me on a first listen, but the band really put a lot of effort into avoiding the mistakes of the past record. There are maybe one or two moments that are suspiciously deathcore-like, but it’s really aspects that originated in death metal that the –core genre than integrated into itself, such as chugged riffing and death metal breakdowns (not to be confused with –core breakdowns, which just blatantly focus on open chugging, as opposed to actual death metal elements). While I can’t say I think it tops None so Vile or Blasphemies Made Flesh, the variety in the riffs, the adrenaline inducing aspect to most of the songs and the effort that went into making a great album as a whole puts it into a safe third place for me, beating out the last four records easily. While it certainly goes back to its roots with the jazz focus, it still feels like a brand new, modern record from a newer band and I can’t fathom the band having a stronger reinvention of their sound.