When I was in high school, I played bass in a technical death metal band. I didn’t have anywhere near the amount of skill needed to play this style of music, but I gave it a pretty good go (though, in hindsight, I feel sorry for my bandmates at the time, as well as anyone unfortunate enough to witness my playing live). Cryptic Shift‘s bass player sounds like what I wished I sounded like back then, in my wildest dreams. After this brief stint, I went off tech-death, until Visitations From Enceladus gave me a reason to rekindle the spark with this genre. It’s Cryptic Shift’s third release, a weird and wonderful exploration of astronomical objects using death metal, thrash, psychedelia, and a lot of pinch harmonics.
Visitations From Enceladus opens with the prodigious “Moonbelt Immolator”, a 25-minute cosmic riff-fest. It takes balls to open an album with a song of this length, and I feel like there has to be a good reason to do something like this. I have to admit – I struggled with it. I’m not at all opposed to long songs; Opeth are one of my favourite bands, and they’re notorious for writing songs that tickle the 15-minute mark, but 25 minutes is a push, even for me. The first time I heard “Moonbelt Immolator”, I felt it was somewhat haphazard, stringing together loosely related riffs into what could be described as ‘sub-songs’ that make sense on their own, but there didn’t seem to be any particular reason why they had to be part of this greater whole. There are six of these ‘sub-songs’ in “Moonbelt Immolator”, all separated by spacious interludes. To be honest, I still don’t really get it, even several listens later. I understand that this is a continuation of a narrative started on Cryptic Shift’s earlier releases, but I find it hard to follow, and am not sure why the band didn’t just choose to make this part of the album six separate but seamless tracks.
Regardless, I really enjoy many of the sections in “Moonbelt Immolator”, more and more with each listen. It gets really interesting about halfway through, with some balling riffs somewhere between thrash and tech-death, fantastic bass playing, brutal vocals, and an extended round of trading guitar solos. The whole song sounds as if Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Primus’ Les Claypool, Gorguts, and Gojira got together, took a bunch of psychedelics, and then shot themselves into space. A lot of the riffs take heavy thrash influence, and then twist the harmony kaleidoscopically until the thrash remains only in the rhythm. Put a death metal beat behind that and some fast-as-fuck bass licks and harsh vocals over top, and you’ve got the majority of “Moonbelt Immolator”. The riffs are tight and never get boring, and the trippy interlude sections in between sound appropriately whacked out and cosmic. I’m still not entirely convinced that it shouldn’t have been broken into separate tracks, but I respect Cryptic Shift’s decision.
By contrast, “(Petrified In The) Hypogean Gaol” is reasonably straightforward. There’s a bit more black metal influence on this track; the entire first half is viciously fast, until a short clean interlude relaxes the song. This is followed by a more simplistic riff which leaves space for both guitarists to take a solo. I particularly enjoy the second solo over this section – it’s succinct, clean, shreddy, but still melodic. The song concludes with a lovely trippy section, flanged bass arpeggios adding a sense on instability and wonder.
This leads beautifully into the spooky opening of “The Arctic Chasm”, gorgeous clean guitars juxtaposed by heavily dissonant bass chords and unnerving noises. The verse riff of this song is one of my favourites, quite Megadeth in its approach, yet with that an unexpected tail end that pushes it again far more towards death metal. “The Arctic Chasm” isn’t as coherent as “Hypogean Gaol”, but features some of my favourite riffs, ranging from almost sludgy over nasty black metal tremolo lines and thrashy bits to straight-up technical death metal.
The album’s closing track “Planetary Hypnosis” is very intense, but I like it. On it, our team of Mustaine, Claypool, Gorguts, and Gojira are joined by Mastodon’s Brent Hinds to create one of the strangest, but also catchiest riffs on Visitations. The whole song is pummelling, again throwing in a smack of black metal, another brief but absolutely ripping guitar solo, and so, so many pinchies. The vocals on “Planetary Hypnosis” are consistently badass. The flow of the song is disturbed somewhat (in a welcome way) by a very odd clean section – just a few jazzy chords – until it weaves its way back to the intro riff. This is the most structurally straightforward song on the album, which is much appreciated after the meandering labyrinth and lacking repetition of “Moonbelt Immolator”. It’s a very strong end to a very intense album.
Despite being a bit on the chaotic and contrived side, Cryptic Shift have created something pretty cool on Visitations From Enceladus. It took me a while, but I can say with absolute certainty now that I dig this album. It took several very concentrated listens, but it sure as hell is a grower, and with the amount going on all the time I doubt I’ve discovered anywhere near all there is to discover here. It is intense, especially considering over half of it is one song, but it’s worth it.