Review Summary: Cryptopsy's fifth outing is actually not the tragedy you have been lead to believe, with one of the strongest instrumental performances out there coupled with Lord Worm's return they made a masterpiece.
To call Once Was Not one of the worst in Cryptopsy's discography, now seven chapters long, is not really saying a lot. And yet many who hear this of this album are immediately turned off, or will go into the album expecting an exhibition of hate and brutality to equal the mighty None So Vile and switch it off after a handful of the songs. This should be considered a direct insult to any true fan of death metal music and outright blasphemy to those who consider themselves a Cryptopsy fan, as their 2005 outing is actually an album that embodies every trait that made the band's past works so powerful. No this is not one of their worst albums but in fact shines in almost every respect.
Once Was Not shows a continuation of the band's foray into the technical death metal realms and also heralds the return of None So Vile and Blasphemy Made Flesh vocalist Lord Worm coupled with the departure of original member Jon Levasseur who makes but one brief cameo on here. To some this may sound absolutely absurd, to think of a good Cryptopsy album without their past guitarist. However this album really gives Alex Auburn a chance to shine that was for the most part the down fall ...And Then You'll Beg, which proved to be a little sub-par although a still listenable release. The guitar work on that album was not watertight as has come to be expected of the band that put out such classics as Whisper Supremacy and None So Vile. This album marks a return to the riffs that are equal parts memorable and insanely technical, so kudos to Alex for that. His riffing is completely bezerk throughout with Keeping The Cadaver Gods Busy taking the spotlight for this side of the band. The crazily speedy tremolo picked riffs are frequently broken out in this album but Cryptopsy's signature of playing numerous power chords at a manic pace are also found on songs such as Adeste Infidelis and Carrionshine. The guitar work of Alex Auburn stands out as one of this album's real successes. It may also seem absurd that a guitarist can record both the rhythm tracks to a song such as The End and also the solo to Angelskingarden without rendering themselves unable to play again but this is testament to how good Alex is.
Whilst the guitars are going all over the place; the out of control drumming from Flo Mounier and the frantic bass lines of Eric Langlois once again make their return for None So Vile. Ever since the band's very first album Flo has been taking the fastest blast beats that spring to mind and doubling them with his hyper fast but also exceedingly technical drumming. However on Once Was Not he may well have put in his best performance. This is a blast-beat fest that mere mortals can only dream of playing but the real standout of the album is Angelskingarden. At seven minutes long one would expect a drummers hands and feet to drop off were they even playing at Slayer's speeds. But this is Flo Mounier a drummer so inhuman he can transcend even the limitations of time as he shows finely throughout the entire song, especially at around the 1.30 mark where he unleashes the blast beat to end all blasts. Eric Langlois holds down his end of the rhythm section masterfully as well with some technically proficient bass lines and even the odd miniature solo scattered across the album. If there were ever a metal bassist that does not get nearly enough praise it is Eric Langlois who has consistently shown off some very talented material. There are no moments on here that quite match his ego-inflating solo in Slit Your Guts off of None So Vile but his work will not go forgotten as each song on here shows really well.
The one factor of this album that people are always most eager to hear about is whether Lord Worm still had it in him to unleash the killer screams and the absolute rock bottom tones he showcased on None So Vile many years beforehand. The answer is yes but only to a certain degree. Whilst it is unquestionable that he can still growl his lungs out they do sound somewhat throatier and lack some of the power that made his vocal performance on that masterpiece of an album quite so iconic within the genre. Many of his high screams remind me somewhat of the earlier vocals from the plague of the metal scene that is Oliver Sykes. They sound overly forced and a little underwhelming but still show off that he has lost none of the range that made his vocals on None So Vile stand out. The years have obviously taken a toll on his voice but fans of the band and metal in general should be happy to hear that he still has the skill to produce some good screams. On The Pestilence that Walketh in Darkness (Psalm 91: 5-8) he even shows off a couple of black metal shrieks that could not sound cooler on any album anywhere and gave a little inkling that one day he may well go on to shift over into that style. This, of course, eventually happened with the 2012 debut of Rage Nucleaire. His lyrics on here might not be as morbid as what was on None So Vile or Blasphemy Made Flesh but they are still incredible thought provoking and skillfully written. The lyrical themes on this album have changed from the bloodbath's that he spoke of in earlier albums to deal with socio-political commentary and human shortcomings ranging from war to famine. One would expect good lyrics from part-time English Literature teacher Lord Worm and he manages once again to deliver.
The major weaknesses of this album are its production and the aforementioned occasional vocal blips from Lord Worm. The drum tones on this album are absolutely atrocious and show off how a death metal production job should not be handles. God alone knows what the hell Flo was playing on or what Sebastien Marsan had been smoking during the recording and mixing of this album but neither can have been very good. The production on the drums is detrimental to the overall sound of this album as the snare in particular just dominates the mix when used and has a distinctive rattle. It is no St. Anger but the production is definitely the worst thing about this album. The guitars sound a little flat and it is hard to distinguish the lead tracks from the rhythm tracks at times and Eric's bass is almost buried half the time which should not be the case with a Cryptopsy album. Endless Cemetery is also a song that you may want to stay away from if you are worried about this album destroying fond memories of Lord Worm's demonic vocals from the band's first two installments in their discography. The high screams that have already been highlighted as one of the worst things about the album are used for the majority of his vocals on here and they are terribly done. His higher register on this album gets very grating and this is just the epitome of this.
Once Was Not stands out as one of the most solid instrumental performances that Cryptopsy ever managed to write but its shortcomings prove exceedingly detrimental to the album as a whole. Following the clean introduction song Luminum this album is non stop 100% brutality with some ridiculously technical guitar work and drums that only the devil could have crafted. Lord Worm's return was indeed a good thing but also provided one of the album's most crippling features. Had he stuck with his lower register exclusively then this would possibly be the band's second best work but unfortunately it does not feel quite as complete as either None So Vile or Whisper Supremacy. However this is an album that proudly calves a path for itself with any listener who is willing to give it a shot in its entirety. From the amazing "can you smell the fear" part of In the Kingdom Where Everything Dies, the Sky is Morta right through the album we are provided some incredible moments that blow most death metal right out the water. Consider listening to this if you are a fan of extreme metal in general and are NOT expecting another None So Vile as there are very few albums out there that can match the genius of that album. This is a masterpiece in its own right and should not be seen merely as an inferior version of that particular release.