cover-cryptogenic

Cryptogenic is a term that refers to something of obscure or unknown origin. It also is a band from Charleroi, the Francophone region of Belgium. Cryptogenic, who never formally demoed, was formulated in 2014 and instead opted to release its debut barely a year after forming. “There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is a concept album about a viral disease that turns mankind into ravaging, bloodthirsty mutants. The biggest selling point, for both band and album, is frontwoman Catarina Craveiro Salsinha.

Salsinha’s growl is impressive but the unflattering, overly dry production tends to make her sound unintendedly monotonous. That isn’t to say to say that Cryptogenic wouldn’t benefit from better developed vocal lines. As the Mike van Mastrigt-fronted Sinister and the various Incantation and Monstrosity frontmen have proven in spades it is perfectly possible to implement variation while staying within a certain vocal style. For the most part Catarina’s vocals are similar to those of Edda Tegeder Óskarsdóttir from Icelandic death metal outfit Angist. A number of songs include mood setting atmospheric sections with piano playing, church organs, sound effects and the like. A multitude of emotive, carefully-phrased and beautifully laid out solos stand in stark contrast to the rather matter-of-fact and robust death metal that the band chooses to specialize in.

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‘Deep into Flesh’ aims for that classic morbid, desolate atmosphere of desiccation and decay. It is helped immensely by the sudden piano melody and the eerie opening section. 'The Last Glow Of Humanity' is one of the more traditional cuts of the record. The slow midsection in ‘Unchained Hatred’ borders treacherously close on deathcore - and slam-death territory, neither of which is advisable. Thankfully it is redeemed by a spectacular solo. Why ‘Requiem For Ashes’ is its own song, and not integrated as an intro piece to ‘A Den Of Iniquity’ probably has to do with that it can be used as an interlude or introduction in during live shows. ‘Dismember’ and ‘Obsessed By the Screams’ are the strongest cuts of the record, the former because it is the most straightforward and focused. The latter retains the focus and tight structuring and adds a number of truly exhilarating leads portions.

“There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is plagued by an uneven and somewhat schizophrenic mix of American death metal, melodic Swedish death metal, technical metal, and stomping death-groove. The songwriting, while not lacking in atmosphere, is often confused and directionless with songs either containing too much ideas, or not enough. Often Cryptogenic will start a song with an American sounding section only to move through a brief almost hardcore chord progression only to transition into saccharine Swedish melodic death metal territory. The disconnect between all three parts couldn’t be more glaring and obvious. While the versatility of players is to be commended, it naturally results in a lack of cohesion within the songs individually, and the album as a whole. Cryptogenic wants a bit of everything, and ends up with mostly nothing. What the band overcompensates in percussive vocal delivery and punch, it lacks in character and colour. The album, and the band, lacks the stylistic cohesion that made institutions as Aborted, Ancient Rites and Emeth the household names that they are considered today.

The album was recorded at Rising Recording Studio in Houffalize, Luxembourg. It combines a guitar tone not dissimilar to the early work of Sunlight Studio and Tomas Skogsberg (the formative works of Necrophobic, At the Gates and Unleashed come to mind) with a concrete bass guitar that recalls "The Bleeding" by Cannibal Corpse, and sets that to an organic, warm drum sound. The production is crunchy without being overproduced, nor does the album sound compressed, sterile or brickwalled. It does lack a sense of gloss and polish that is expected of contemporary death metal. The drums are the best produced on all fronts. The digital artwork by Hybrid Graphic suitably fits the album narrative and thankfully avoids both the comical over-the-top gore of this genre’s more underground practitioners and the video game scene recreations of its more market savvy adherents. It, however, is not the second coming of "Fearless Undead Machines" or any of the canvasses Wes Benscoter crafted for infamous New York death metal institution Mortician.

Cryptogenic is a typically Belgian band in the sense that it bathes in a veneer of contemporaneousness and modernity but can’t quite escape the looming shadow of its various influences, both old and new. In that sense Cryptogenic squarely falls into the category of fellow Belgian bands as Insanity Reigns Supreme, Pestifer and Serial Butcher that all have established potential, and reliably release albums – but never quite manage to grow beyond the tenets of the underground. Cryptogenic obviously aims high, but not high enough to truly become an international player. “There Is No Hope …Beyond Mutation” is far from terrible, but some finetuning is needed to properly hone Cryptogenic strengths into something more potent and threatening. The album is limited to 1000 copies worldwide so pick it up while supplies last.

On “Laguz” enduring Belgian underground pillar Ancient Rites makes its long awaited return after a near decade of uncertainty, lineup instability and general malaise. The much-anticipated follow-up to 2006’s “Rubicon” is the first for its new label home Massacre Records, and sees the band trimmed down to a quartet. As always the release of a new Ancient Rites record is a momentous occasion. “Laguz”, among its other merits, is by far the best produced effort in Ancient Rites’ modest but commendable catalog.

“Laguz” is interesting in how it recalls the band’s trans-European phase, even though its line-up has slimmed considerably since. Domingo Smets, who initially started out as the band’s keyboardist, has moved over from bass guitar to lead guitar, replacing original guitarist Bart Vandereycken who took his leave for the second time in the interim. Much like on “Fatherland” producer Oliver Philipps arranged and recorded all orchestral - and keyboard parts substituting for the departed Davy Wouters. Gunther Theys plays the bass guitar again for the first time since 2001’s “Dim Carcosa”. As far as subject matter is concerned there’s a far greater focus on Roman antiquity, and history in comparison to the preceding albums. As with its transitional records additional female vocals make their return, this time contributed by Evy Verbruggen.

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‘Golden Path to Samarkand’ refers to Samarkand, the Uzbek city known for its central position on the Silk Road trade route between China and the West. ‘Carthago Delende Est’ chronicles the Punic Wars against Carthage during the 2nd Century BC, and the song title was a popular Latin oratorical phrase. ‘Under the Sign of Laguz’ takes its name from the Proto-Germanic rune for water. The intro to ‘Von Gott Entfernt (Bij nacht en ontij)’ nearly sounds as a piece from a Greg Edmonson soundtrack to an “Uncharted” game. ‘Legio V Alandae (Fifth Lark Legion)’ details the Gallica, a legion of the Roman Imperial Army founded in 48 BC by Caius Julius Caesar. The legion was most famous for fighting the Gallic Wars, and considered one of its bravest. As in the past the album is multi-lingual with ‘Frankenland’ including passages in the band’s native Flemish (Dutch).

That “Laguz” builds upon the formula of what was started on “Fatherland” and its two successors was expected. Ancient Rites has long since abandoned its primal death/black metal roots. Some of the more opulent keyboard segments on the album border on Bal-Sagoth territory, as does Gunther Theys’ vocal work. At points “Laguz” sounds like a classic Turilli/Staropoli era Rhapsody album through its usage of triumphant melodies, albeit it in a more grounded, historical context instead of an overblown and belabored fantasy one. A point of contention is the change in vocals. Theys used to alternate between rasps, narration, whispers and the occasional grunt. On “Laguz” only the whispers and narration seems to remain. It’s a puzzling choice considering how creative this band once was with its wide array of vocal styles.

As per modern tradition Ancient Rites recorded at Spacelab Studio, Germany with producers/engineers Oliver Philipps and Christian Moos. Once again “Laguz” was mastered at Eroc's Mastering Ranch in Breckerfeld, Germany with Joachim Heinz Ehrig manning the console. A notable improvement is the fact that the drums don’t sound sterile and flat for the first time. “Laguz” is without a doubt the best produced Ancient Rites album so far. A lot of time was spent on vocal production and as a result Gunther Theys never sounded better. Interestingly, the digital artwork shows a striking similarity to that of the 1997 Unleashed album “Warrior”.

In many ways is “Laguz” the summit of the stylistic evolution that Ancient Rites embarked on almost two decades prior with the “Fatherland” album. Almost a decade after its last studio outing Ancient Rites continues to prove why they are the finest and most versatile of the European symfo metal top. “Laguz” is the most pristine produced of all Ancient Rites efforts, and one on which all of the band’s different facets fall into place. Much like fellow Belgian unit Insanity Reigns Supreme, Ancient Rites never does concessions to its artistic vision – and they stay true to the old adage of quality over quantity. That “Laguz” wasn’t widely picked up seems only logical considering its protracted conception. Despite its long history and commendable catalog Ancient Rites remains one of Belgium’s unsung heroes.