Cryptic Shift – Visitations from Enceladus
The riffs are out there, waiting behind the stars.
Space; the final frontier or at least not a very commonly explored one in the Death Metal Aerospace Department. Science fiction, the mysteries of the cosmos, and the idea we are not alone out here are a common theme in fiction pulpy and highbrow, popular and obscure. While death metal is better known for its tale of gruesome fates and mystical terrors its love of horror themes has always meant a portion of it focused moreso on the Alien series, H.P. Lovecraft, The Thing, Cronenberg, Dead Space and other media titans speaking of dark futures and malevolent extrasolar forces. Of course, not all sci-fi in death metal lyrically intersects with the horror genre and neither does the music stick to one particular form. The latter has an even more interesting history in its representation from the lo-fi shred ‘n’ synth laden thrashing of Nocturnus all the way up to the lumbering rhythms and unnerving harmonies of Nucleus. Science fiction and surreal death metal have a history of going together and Britons Cryptic Shift are more than happy to continue this legacy with Visitations From Enceladus.
Cryptic Shift’s beginnings were in the thrash metal genre like many death metal acts but theirs was always a more technical, brainy take on the genre easily comparable to Vektor. This aspect of them has not been lost on this mutation into the realm of death metal but it manifests itself in ways not often seen nowadays. Like many primarily American bands the thrash heritage makes itself clear but given their influences the end result is far from familiar. Skank beats and staccato rhythms make themselves known but rather than full throttle onslaughts and low-register jackhammering, we’re treated to sprawling spider-webs of oddly toned riffing, interspersed with writhing lead excursions, and an ever-shifting flow of drumming humble in how it amplifies the intensity of disjointed sounding riffs with a performance understated in its flair and knowing when to strategically tear into the technical acrobatics surrounding it.
No strong tech-metal rhythm section is complete without a standout bass performance and with an almost relaxed, meditative air the bass glides and turns amongst this lush backdrop, camouflaged against the wild array of deep space colour yet peeking and squirming out from behind these space-time crevices with a leering, perverse curiosity. A growl frantic and partially buried into the lower frequencies emerges like the distant echoes of some distant solar call entrancing you further into the mysteries of this strange world, bearing a sharp and scraping mid-range tone that narrates the voyage through the nightmare. In spite of the “brainy” nature of the music, its thrash heritage gives it a good deal of accessibility balancing the abstract against the immediate resulting in an album that has lofty aspirations that are not too hard to grasp.
With this strange musical melting pot of ideas reminiscent of acts such as recent Plague Rider, Martyr (Canada), Moss Upon The Skull, Dead Brain Cells, Atheist, and to a slight extent Blood Incantation, the album itself is home to some fairly wild songs with each one being its own little rabbit-hole descent. Opening with a near 26 minute-long monumental pillar, Visitations From Enceladus fires a full salvo of multifaceted guitar work that can go from straightforward chunking to fluttery faded sounding chords laced with weirdly resolved harmonies and twisty basslines, all the while drumming seemingly stumbles not into clumsy clattering but crashing cymbal fire and the bass dances about as if mockingly adding flames to this wildfire. Multi-chaptered and rarely if ever settling into any comfortable, consonant riffing it at times borders on a Gorguts level of semi-atonal hostility, even branching into moments of noisy guitar squealing and ghostly clean breaks. As you might guess, it’s pretty fucking good and more or less sums up the new face of the band. Granted some of the more vague, improvised parts will not be everyone’s jam but I personally find them to work well within its disorienting, cyclonic structure.
The four songs in its wake are by comparison far more compact. The thrash influence shines further here and the scope is streamlined to better suit a relatively more impact-oriented sound. Palm muting is more prominent here, used to create a steady rhythm and sense of familiarity, laying down springboards to jump off of into more unusual and atmospheric techniques. Each of these songs start with a simple enough tonal narrative over which a widening array of riffing and harmonies begins to emerge, melting the comfortable and crunchy into Voivod-like dreamy textures and more aggressive, sharply defined riffing.
It isn’t quite as sprawling complex as you might think in spite of the lofty aspirations of the band, perhaps a leftover of their thrash days, and this merry-go-round revolving door like approach does make the band easier to follow structurally than in terms of its wild, inventive playing. It’s not exactly Testament or even Coroner on that end of course, but the emphasis on punchier riffing rooting down each song does give it a sturdy sense of anchoring for each track that can be used as a platform with which each song can gradually be steered to new territories. However, while these remaining songs are all strong, it’s kind of hard to not wish it ended with even a shorter double-digit epic than it opened with. It begins on such a ridiculously strong note that everything else for all of the crafting skill behind it is really hard to compare to the eldritch majesty of “Moonbelt Immolator.”
Still, if you don’t get as caught up over saving the best for the beginning as I do, you will enjoy this four song progressive metal deep space transmission. Its anachronistic idiosyncrasy puts it in in a similar domain as psychedelic warlords such as Execration, Diskord, Blood Incantation, and Temisto as well as the more unusual avant-prog oriented “Death In Opposition” practitioners such as Zealotry, Garroted, Calcemia, and Epitaphe. You could call it technical death as well though it has little to do with the common understanding of the subgenre, picking up the torch where its influences left off and walking an atmosphere-breaching path branching away from the shred-manic blast machines of years past. Thematically, while science fiction has always had an undeniable presence in death metal it’s now more vital than ever in a time when the genre is starving for a path forward beyond tongue-in-cheek shock-n-shlock tedium without having to abandon the grim, foreboding atmosphere that carried it for years. With a sound that has a bit of that classic thrashy pulp to it while mutating it in disturbing and unnatural ways, it’s an effective combination of aesthetic and execution that even if you don’t follow its cryptic lyrical story still resembles an alien psychic warfare weapon turned into musical form. For those about to enter deep space, safe travels through the wormholes.
4/5 anti-gravitational waste chutes
Visitations from Enceladus is out now on Blood Harvest. You can purchase it on their bandcamp.