Review Summary: Hard, fast, noisy.
Across the ridiculous number of subgenres and crossovers that metal has instigated, there are clearly defined traditions. Knowledge of these traditions is wielded by whip-smart innovators who know these interlacing paths like you know every meandering track and its eventual terminus in your hometown. They are tour guides in a land with known history, guiding listeners past vistas of sounds gone by, enthusiastically answering questions from curious tourists about whether such historic innovation is still occurring today.
“The tour begins in the technical death/thrash plaza. Meet us underneath the flag depicting a soldier raising a device toward an imposing monolith in an icy landscape lit by hellish, red skies
,” reads Cryptic Shift's brochure, rather matter-of-factly. After navigating through throngs of metal fans in the packed bazaar- unidentifiable meats sizzling under racks of bloated animal corpses, weirdly oily dudes everywhere wearing black shirts adorned with graphic, symbolically-confusing images, superimposed illegible text baffling rather than clarifying the symbology- you spot the vibrant flag and the band standing underneath it, shi
t-eating grins plastered across their faces.
“Ready to hear some Phenomenal Technicological Astrodeath?” Xander Bradley eagerly blurts.
Before you can say, “Wha–?” he stabs you with a hypodermic, opens up a time-wound, and roughly heaves you through it as your vision fades to black. When you awaken, you're strapped into a cold metal chair, the band are all plugged-in and set-up uncomfortably close to you. Those grins seemingly never left their faces.
As Cryptic Shift ease into the opening minutes of “Moonbelt Immolator” clues about Visitations from Enceladus
' core sound are frugally bestowed upon the imprisoned listener. Passing soundscapes elaborate on a conceptual core of science-fiction. Dissonant, winding, unresolved chord progressions tell you to forget everything you know about tonal centres. All the while, bassist John Riley makes it clear that he's here to shred the shi
t out of a fretless bass regardless of how fragmented the chaos surrounding him becomes.
It's a slow start, with nothing resembling a kinetic groove entering the frame until four minutes into the track, but once the band hit the hyperdrive switch it's time to say goodbye to any semblance of control you thought you had over your bowels. By the time the drums are throwing down thrash beats and the guitars are positively shredding at about the seven minute mark, it feels as if twenty different songs have been aggressively transmitted into your neural implant at once, forcing you to battle an incumbent brain aneurysm, yet somehow, through all of the pain and confusion, you feel a kind of thrill-seeking elation. Worry not, you've got plenty of time to drink this feeling in, as there's still another eighteen minutes or so before the track ends.
The remaining duration of the gargantuan opening track contains noisy freakouts, clean guitar passages that provide small doses of traditional melody, a tasteful touch of chugging, intimidating growls, a couple of cameos from a vocoder, and an absurd amount of unique riffs and chaotic leads courtesy of Xander and Joe Bradley. There is a sense that “Moonbelt Immolator” is a bit haphazardly stitched together, but there's no particularly weak section once the pace picks up, making this structural issue nothing more than a passing problem.
Placing the most labyrinthine track first turns out to be a masterstroke, as the three tracks that follow provide welcome relief with their relatively sensible, self-contained structures. That's not to say that things get simple- these songs are filled with sharp turns and terrifying minotaurs alike- but, in contrast to “Moonbelt Immolator”, every track that follows has a more concretely defined identity.
Lyrically, things are a bit confusing. The lyrics that have spread to such faultless sources as Genius and Encyclopaedia Metallum do appear to be official, but don't appear to contain most of the lyrics that Xander growls throughout this thing. They seem to provide an outline of what's happening in the story, which is apparently a sequel to their last full-length release. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a story of war and time-travel in space. The digital version of the album comes with a few helpful images to kickstart your imagination, but no digital booklet to speak of. Parsing harsh vocals for meaning without the aid of the written word is not a habit of mine, so I can't comment on the efficacy of the storytelling, but it seems mysterious and exciting as a result of its presentation anyway.
Fortunately, Visitations from Enceladus
doesn't use its concept as a crutch to prop up a bloated release, or to make the album seem like anything more than it is. Cryptic Shift's latest release can be thoroughly enjoyed solely on account of its performances and dizzying interplay, or as a handy reference point for what the forefront of death/thrash looks like right now. A brief list of reference points for the sound on display here would include the riffage and creative bass-playing of latter-day Gorguts, the speedy precision and thrash influence of Vektor (minus their trademark theatricality and divisive vocals), and even a smattering of pre-synthporn Kayo Dot in some of the album's more loosely arranged sections. While these and other influences are worn proudly, Cryptic Shift have created an album on which they transcend plain imitation to prove that they are whipsmart innovators deserving of any metal nerd's attention.