Review Summary: A criminally underrated display of fantastic death metal with some amazing drumming, chaotic but tasteful riffing and brutal vocals.
Long before becoming the band now known as Craptopussy with the release of The Unspoken King, it is a well-known fact that Cryptopsy were right up there among the finest death metal acts. Their debut album, Blasphemy Made Flesh, carved them out a position as one of the most technical bands of their era, as well as having a striking knowledge of how to write and structure music that was not only listenable, but kind of catchy. Their sophomore album, None So Vile, is a legendary outing that only cemented their status as a masterful band with an ear for the brutal and the amazing, and their third album continued this whilst upping the ante on the technical frontier despite the loss of Lord Worm behind the microphone. From this point onward, the band's material is often debated as to whether it is actually listenable or not, but their fifth studio album Once Was Not is certainly evidence that the band still had the chops to put out a stellar death metal album.
The idea of a Cryptopsy album opening up with an acoustic track may sound absurd to many, but this is a group of men that knows exactly how to start an album off with something that always somehow suits the mood of the respective albums. None So Vile had a somewhat disturbing sample from The Exorcist, whilst Whisper Supremacy begins with a cacophony of indistinguishable sounds that precedes the musical chaos to come. The morbid-sounding acoustic guitar work on this 2005 release's opening song, Luminium, does not last for particularly long but in the short space of time it is around for, it more than gives off an idea as to the atmosphere of this release. This is one dark-sounding album and the acoustic work fits in brilliantly as it would more than stand in as an ideal soundtrack to a funeral. This is not the only time an acoustic is used on this album, and it really kicks things off well. From the moment this track fades out, however, this is business as usual for Cryptopsy.
In The Kingdom Where Everything Dies may well be one of the band's finest tracks and is the first song on here to feature vocals from none other than returning member Lord Worm. The original vocalist of Cryptopsy sounds somewhat tired on this album but at the same time his guttural roar is a perfect embodiment of the sound the band strives to achieve here. Whilst Flo Mounier blasts away at inhuman speeds and the guitar work thunders ahead with a mixture of hyper-technical power chord riffs and crazily tremolo picked moments, Worm roars and shrieks his lyrics out with so much conviction. Some may be turned off by the semi-black metal screams that first show off the returning idol of many aspiring death metal vocalists as he calls out "we are... we are aware" in an incredibly high pitched voice, but they are surprisingly well performed here. His lows are not quite on par with the rock-bottom sounds he was casting out with every demonic word on None So Vile but they are also well done and bring the undecipherable but somewhat enjoyable dimension back that was missing from the Mike DiSalvo years.
This is an album that also contains a degree of melody to it despite the barrage of ridiculously quick blast beats and frantic riffing that are thrust upon the listener around every corner. The introduction to Angelskingarden sets the evil tone to that particular song whilst being very well composed, and the riffs to this song in particular as the vocals come in are some of the best and catchiest here. The slight break in the song around ninety seconds in leads into a ridiculously quick riff before a chuggy but chunky riff with some neat use of the hi-hat continues the onslaught on the ears. The clean opening to the Pesilence That Walketh The Darkness shows off this striking melody and the first proper riff to it shows off exactly why this was chosen to have a video accompany it. This is also a rather interesting track as Lord Worm recites a psalm from the bible for the first half of the song with spoken word vocals, before closing it with a manic black metal shriek. If the first minute of this song sounded surprisingly calm for this band, then this shriek announces the opening of all Hell, as the other two and a half minutes are perhaps some of the most intense but enjoyable the band has ever put out. This is a song that is often overlooked among their better liked and better known tracks like Phobophile and Slit Your Guts, but it truly is amazing and will drop your jaw directly to the ground.
Another factor of this album that deserves mentioning is the fantastic consistency and momentum that is carried throughout. This album is consistently awesome, with great moments aplenty that are guaranteed to win over even the biggest critic this album may find for whatever reason. The introduction of clean spoken and whispered segments on certain songs are certainly something worth mentioning as they add quite a lot to the songs, feeling like a distant commentary of the subjects the songs speak of (primarily social issues and anti-war instead of the butchering and murder that Worm previously spoke of). The Curse Of The Great, The Pestilence That Walketh The Darkness and In The Kingdom Where Everything Dies are all good examples of this, with the latter containing a couple of whispered lines that reek of nothing short of pure malice and hatred. Each track here also has some rather amazing drumming that strays away from being purely blasting away as fast as possible. The Curse Of The Great has some stellar rolls, whilst Adeste Infidelis progresses nicely throughout the first minute or so. The riff work is surprisingly varied here, with The Frantic Pace Of Dying and Carrionshine in particular sticking out as highlights and The Pestilence That Walketh The Darkness being slightly more streamlined to keep up the variety and consistency that this album has to offer.
The one minor gripe that many have pointed out with this that actually holds true is the fact that the production is very underwhelming. The drums are very badly produced, whilst the vocals are far too loud, and the guitars consistently disrupt the mix throughout. Aside from this, however, Once Was Not is a drastically underrated chunk of death metal that will hit you like a freight train and never lets up.