Label: Blood Harvest Release date: 04-05-2020
From the get-go, the Cryptic Shift’s debut album title screams science fiction. Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn and has been the subject of many sci-fi books, most notably by physicist and hard science-fiction writer, Brandon Q Morris. Enceladus, if you are also into Greek mythology, was one of the Giants (born out of Uranus and Gaia). Why is this piece of information relevant? Well, Cryptic Shift can be described as nerdy and massive-sounding. On receiving the album to review, my initial thoughts were – “Hmm, a twenty-six minute album opener?”, “Song titles that make me wonder if Cryptic Shift are a love child of Vektor and Nocturnus?”. Needless to say the whole package of the album art and the choice of titles piqued my curiosity. My expectations were optimistic yet measured because often bands fail to deliver on their promises.
Spoiler alert, Cryptic Shift don’t disappoint.
Visitations from Enceladus may be the band’s debut effort but Cryptic Shift have been around since 2012. First as their initial avatar of Crÿptic Shift and then with their current version. They have a few demos, EPs, splits and singles under their belt. But Visitations from Enceladus is truly the band’s first major release. The album is very much akin to sci-fi novels with twisting (and meandering) plot lines, interesting world building, all while being dense to read. I’ve usually found myself re-reading passages in sci-fi books and very similarly, Visitations… requires multiple listens in order to appreciate it. Here’s my last (I promise) book analogy. The album manages to create a world in your head as you traverse the songs with each passing minute. Musically, I would categorize Cryptic Shift’s genre as technical progressive proto-death metal. The vocals are not guttural though. There are definitely leanings towards thrash metal but the intensity is very much like late 80s death metal. Cryptic Shift would appeal to fans of Voivod, Vektor, Nocturnus, late 90s/early 00s Gorguts, Atheist and Cynic.
Moonbelt Immolator is the album opener which clocks in at close to twenty-six minutes. For a debut album, these guys are definitely not playing safe and are totally uncompromising when it comes to the “norms”. The track feels like an EP in itself with sections being distinct from each other, as in you have a sense where one section ends and where the other begins. Yet, all the parts are connected quite well as if there’s a coherent and consistent storyline connecting all parts. You will hear a mix of intense technical death/thrash parts, mid-paced riff-driven sections and slower instrumental interludes. The tempo shifts and the slower interlude parts in the track are where the song composition skills and musicianship shine through. To many, Moonbelt Immolator would be the main course meal at dinner due to its length but let’s not forget that there are three other tracks which cumulatively clock in at twenty minutes. Cryptic Shift continue unleashing their brand of tech wizardry on (Petrified in the) Hypogean Gaol, the Arctic Chasm and Planetary Hypnosis. Even though shorter in length, the songs offer enough variation to rival Moonbelt. Arctic Chasm’s build up from clean guitars to technical verse passages to death metal tremolo riffage confirms that all the creative output in the album isn’t concentrated in Moonbelt. Planetary Hypnosis, another great track, reminds me of Atheist’s hallmark songs.
When it comes to the instruments, one cannot make a technical thrash/death metal album relying solely on guitar wizardry. While the twin-guitar attack is an obvious mention, for me personally, the highlight of the album is how the bass is given so much love in the mix. John Riley’s bass leads match up to (and compliment) the technical guitar parts and sometimes even surpasse them in terms of musicianship. But that said, the whole band works solidly as a unit. There are two types of vocal techniques used on the album. For the most part, Xander delivers growls which are raspy, rough along the edges and harsher than typical thrash vocals. Like I mentioned earlier, very proto-death metal-esque. There are also instances where Xander employs robotic (Cynic-like) vocals, which actually fit quite well considering this is a slab of science-fiction influenced music.
Revisiting my initial explanation of Enceladus, I would say Cryptic Shift embodies the nerdy aspect of science fiction as well as the massiveness of the Greek mythological Giant. By massive, I am definitely referring to the expansive, genre-defying and technical body of work the band has created. The band pays homage to the legends in the genre but are still able to carve a place for themselves. Without a doubt, the album is truly a masterpiece from start to finish and would easily be in the running for album of the year on many lists.
- Xander Bradley – Vocals, Guitars
- John Riley – Bass
- Ryan Sheperson – Drums
- Joss Farrington – Guitars
- Moonbelt Immolator
- (Petrified in the) Hypogean Gaol
- The Arctic Chasm
- Planetary Hynosis