When a record is presented to you as a progressive death metal mixture of the best parts of bands like Between the Buried and Me and Black Crown Initiate by It Djents’ resident music snob (I won’t say any names), it’s hard not to jump on it like a pack of hungry wolves jump a wounded moose. This was the case with Long Island, NY-based band Cryptodira’s upcoming album, The Devil’s Despair, and it wasn’t the only superlative being thrown around either.
So naturally, my first question was: ‘What is it about this record that made that particular person change their mind about what they previously believed to be a mediocre post-metal/prog-death hybrid?’ Well, it’s hard to pinpoint one big single reason; there are different elements at play that shape The Devil’s Despair into its impressive form, elements which I’d like to outline further while having a look at some of the album’s songs.
The fourth song, “Medusa Misgendered” (awesome title, by the way), gives me ample reason to dish out the first round of compliments. Vocalist Scott Acquavella proves to be the band’s secret weapon early on; his range in both unclean and clean vocal parts is simply incredible. Ennobling the quieter parts of the song with his warm, sophisticated timbre, he effectively counterpoints his excellent low growls and, honestly somewhat weaker, mid-range hardcore-tinged screams. This vocal dexterity fits the instrumentation perfectly, as it prances fleet-footedly between monstrous death metal passages ripe with pounding drums and meaty riffing, jazzy clean sections, post-rock influences, and a half-time breakdown part hinting at more modern metal(core) proclivities. There’s even a solo which reminds me of “Selkies: The Endless Obsession”, in tone and in structure.
As you can see, Between the Buried and Me are an easy-but-apt point of reference when it comes to the amalgamation of different styles and the panache with which it is executed in this track (as well as the rest of the album – spoiler!).
A clean guitar picked over a synth-provided ambient background begins “Longing Belonging” – another one of my favorite cuts off The Devil’s Despair. Cryptodira, in my humble opinion, shine most when they leave the blunt axe (read: death metal) sheathed, opting instead for a more nimble and nuanced approach. Boasting a once more stellar vocal performance (Acquavella relies solely on his singing this time around), and beautiful sludge metal lead guitar work in the final third of its duration, this song presents an interesting reprieve from the constantly changing onslaught of musical styles which otherwise marks this album, focussing on few ingredients but utilizing those to the maximum of their potential.
As above, so below: after opening on a two-part track (if we’re not counting the just over one minute-long intro), The Devil’s Despair closes likewise with “Negation Consumes Affirmation” and “Negation Consumes Itself”. The former is a short, two-and-a-half minute introduction to the latter, containing a guest appearance by a female vocalist (whose name I sadly was unable to find while writing this piece) as well as some amazing bass lines. Towards the end, it picks up momentum segueing into the heavy beginning of “Negation Consumes Itself”, which is underpinned by melancholic guitar flourishes. An elongated slow section ensues before we see the song exploding into a rabid metal part – complete with pinch harmonics – later on. Ere the end of The Devil’s Despair is finally upon us, we’re also treated to a nicely performed duet between Acquavella and the female vocalist I mentioned just then (sorry again for not finding her name).
What now are those album-defining elements I talked about earlier? In short, they are as follows: outstanding vocals, a keen sense for tasteful and intelligent composition, and great musical diversity. For a band that’s only two albums deep into their career at this point, Cryptodira have already developed an admirable ability to know exactly when to exercise restraint and when to double down on the intensity or genre-hopping, allowing them to avoid both being pigeon-holed into one single style and letting their diverse style become a trope of sorts. The Devil’s Despair is a mature and thoroughly enticing prog-death record, one which might prognosticate a bright future for this young ensemble.
Notable Tracks: “Medusa Misgendered”; “The Gods of Epicurus”; “Negation Consumes Itself”
FFO: Between the Buried and Me, Black Crown Initiate, Mastodon