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I truly wanted to wait and buy the CD when it was officially released. But I couldn't do it. I heard a mention of it available for download and I leaped at it. It's now safe to say I will still be buying the actual CD upon release. True, some will be disappointed in this. They wanted some super-br00tal teknikal death metalzz and they didn't get their wish. Like lightning, Cryptopsy never strike in the same place twice. Every album, or at least every album after 1995, is one idea taken to such magnificent and extreme lengths that the mind cannot but be numbed by it. Extremity is a tricky thing...most bands making extreme metal attempt to completely drive one's senses through a brick wall. Some do so decently, like Ion Dissonance or Origin, and others simply create rat excrement, like Conqueror or Anal Cunt. However, like one of the serial killers from Lord Worm's insanely twisted lyrical world, Cryptopsy tactfully stab at one's senses, every sharp blow plunging into one's proverbial heart like nothing else can. Cliche as it may be, I'm going to review each song on its own. One thing that you must know about Once Was Not is that it must be listened to as an album. The songs are put in a specific order for very good reason. Not to say they have no worth on their own, but to truly feel and understand the experience, you have to play this one from start to finish. ...
Luminum - It took a very Kantian sense of duty toward an attractive young lady friend of mine to tear me away from this little minute and a half intro when I first heard it. I must have repeated it maybe five times and would have kept doing so until the next song finished downloading (I still have dial-up) had I not left the house. The classical guitar sweeps are beautifully played over faint tinges of atmosphere in the background, while the piece itself concludes on a very dissonant note.
In The Kingdom Where Everything Dies, The Sky Is Mortal - I can't wait for the lyrics to this one. Four whole note chords cut through the quiet beginning, and then, just like that, you know Cryptopsy are back for your soul! This song introduces several themes which are found through the length of the album including the wild, almost random stops, the generally unnatural feel, and even the occasional sampling of electronics. Who ever expected that opening shriek?
Carrionshine - This one's quite a little bit thrashy and the closest thing on the album to what is commonly perceived as "death metal", It doesn't hold back on the artifical harmonics, and they are masterfully used in one of the main riffs.
Adeste Infidelis - Here is what I love about Cryptopsy. Like particles in quantum physics, it's everywhere at once! Once again unexpected...I didn't think I'd catch Lord Worm, who has a degree in English Literature (and another in Psychology) speaking French in an almost cartoonish voice before the solo. And how about a hand to Eric Langlois for that little bass solo in the middle. I can't explain this song at all, you have to hear it. And wait for one of Worm's staples, the VERY long scream at the end of a song, this time to a riff which seems to slow itself down while Worm's voice becomes more intense. Truly brilliant!
The Curse Of The Great - The meander at the end of Adeste is kept up through the beginning of this one before switching to another excellent riff over a drumline very reminiscent of the one at the beginning of Amon Amarth's "Death In Fire". They should not go together, and yet they do. One of the more "out there" songs on the album, it maintains only an average pace with riffs that anyone else would have played at breakneck speed, then introduces another riff that explores rarely-touched areas of the fretboard. And that crescendo in the last 10 seconds...wow.
The Frantic Pace Of Dying - When the first riff hits, you think it's great, but it seems to be sinking into a little bit of a mire of "sameness". Just as that thought enters your mind, into your ears comes something completely new...melody! At the perfect time a melodic riff cuts through the dissonance while maintaing the overall feel of the song. And near the end, that same tune comes back, only played once first by a keyboard! Perhaps as I said in my review of None So Vile, the band just speaks to me in a different way, but I can't help but notice how uncanny it was that at the very moment when the album seemed to decohere into something repetitive to me, it changed.
Keeping The Cadaver Dogs Busy - Nothing to start off like a little jazz. That's right...jazz, like the kind you'd hear while having a drink in a laid back pub. But it doesn't last long...The boys from the Crypt (yes, that's my stupid nickname for the band) drag you right back into their world of extreme sensory stimulation. It runs through six excellent riffs in 90 seconds, the first of which features a slide that sounds like no other slide in any song I've ever heard. Once again, the song features little bits of melody here and there, just the right amount. In the middle comes something more thrashy to even out the mix perfectly. It's almost too much to hear in so little time, but it works! It truly works!
Angelskingarden - If there's any song on the album that just knocks you off your feet, 'tis this. Like Adeste Infidelis, words can't do it justice. It's atmospheric keyboards, then vintage Cryptopsy, then thrash, then mid-paced lumbering over the same riff, then electronics, then an almost black metallish tremolo riff, then another one, then some masterful usage of one chord (remember Graves of the Fathers?), then something indescribable, then a quick off-tune acoustic bit - something like the music you'd hear walking through an angel skin garden - then thrash again, then a keyboard interlude, then a gorgeous melodic solo with a little bit of keyboard backing, then the first riff again, then I stop describing it because I just want to hear the last minute and a half of the song!
The Pestilence That Walketh In Darkness - Ahh...bible verses recited in a very sardonic tone! The first riff is not mentally stimulating, and after the somersaults your mind will have had to do to keep up with the last two songs, be thankful for that. Once again, it doesn't last long, as the middle comes back with more unexplored fretboard territory riffs, artificial harmonics...the works! Then the bible verses again to calm your senses down.
The End - The beginning is so chilling that you expect this to be the next Lichmistress...two minutes of all-out fury. But they've surprised us again. It's an oriental-sounding instrumental. Being from the middle east and having heard such music a lot, by those standards it's nothing truly magnifique, but it's there right when you need to hear it, and that's what makes it great. It must be quite a sight to see Flo playing those Arabic drums (we call them "derbakeh" and they're played with the hands, not sticks).
Endless Cemetery - This final song, had it featured just the rough-sounding riffs, would still have been utterly brilliant. Those riffs are that good. But then near the middle something happens that once again strikes your soul where it's not looking. One of the most magnificent riffs I've ever heard. Think Taake! And this could easily have ranked as one of the best riffs of Taake's reperatoire. And I'm a huge, huge fan of Taake. And Worm's shrieking over that riff. And then the solo, melodic again. An entire dissertation couldn't do this song its justice! It leaves me breathless.
I have an interesting theory about this album. I noticed that a lot of its tendencies matched those from Blasphemy Made Flesh...Worm's vocal stylings were similar, the production places the drums on the same level as the guitar in the same way BMF did, and the mid-paced melodic solos bring back some memories (of blood) too. Here's what's interesting...the only interpretation I came up with for the album's title was that it implies "Once Was Not Enough". Lord Worm is back, and perhaps they felt they wanted to in some ways start as they had 12 years ago, releasing something that, while being leaps and bounds more mature and stimulating, was in some ways like their first album. In that case, perhaps in two years we can expect something along the lines of "Once Was Not So Vile Enough"...could you even begin to imagine it?!
When you're talking about music as art, very little can surpass this. Like all art, there will be those who do not understand it, perhaps because their minds are too feeble or perhaps it's just not their preferred type of art. Some of us love Oscar Wilde, some love Richard Wagner, and some, albeit few, love Cryptopsy. As one who enjoys all three, I think my opinion counts for something. This is art. Its dissonance and wrath when understood become just as beautiful as Wilde's writing or Tristan Und Isolde. I hope there are others who understand what I mean, and I hope that some of those others visit this site.
P.S. What in the hell is a chugga-chugga riff? The phrase chugga-chugga lost all meaning to me some time shortly after my fifth birthday. Jeez.