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Despite its American origins, Shadows in the Crypt‘s sophomore full length album Cryptic Communications fortunately reek of Scandinavia, with American black metal bands often being those that I tended to avoided in what is one of my favourite extreme metal subgenres. Cryptic Communications therefore hit the right spot, capturing my attention right from the start of the album till the very end.
The clean guitars that greet the listener on the introductory track Beneath Threatening Skies almost reminds listeners of the intros that Thunderbolt liked to use, especially on their swansong Apocalyptic Doom, setting a sombre and somewhat melancholic and ominous mood for the aural onslaught that is to follow. Things get chaotic soon enough as quick, trem-picked riffs and double-bass pedal fuelled drums hit the listener as The Vengeful Gathering begins. The cold and bleak riffs unleashed by guitarist Lawrence, combined with the shrieks of Necrodemius Hammerhorde produce a sound that is similar to what bands such as Satanic Warmaster and the legendary Mayhem have crafted throughout their careers, especially on songs like Embracing the Forbidden Arts, though the band on Cryptic Communications do attempt some slight innovation.
Instead of focussing solely on the atmospheric aspect of the music, there is quite a high focus on the lead guitars on the album, with Lawrence often littering the album with rather technical solos, dazzling the listener with rapid sweep-picking. Sure, the cold atmosphere in the music is definitely one of the key points on the album, but throughout Cryptic Communications there is an abundance of each of the band members displaying their technical capabilities. For example, drummer Jesse completely punishes his kit, with the fast and relentless blasting that is rampant on the album. That sufficiently raw production on the album also helps to add flavour to the listening experience, further stoking the bleak and desperate emotions in the listener.
With Cryptic Communications, it is extremely easy to mistake Shadows in the Crypt‘s origin to be of a Finnish one, and it was indeed surprising to find out about the band’s American origin initially. Few albums today truly capture that essence of Scandinavian black metal anymore, yet Shadows in the Crypt has definitely managed to do so though with some slight tweaks, and Cryptic Communications would easily please fans of this variant of black metal.
Provided you’re not one of those basement dwelling, ‘kvlter-than-thou’ elitists, then black metal has proven itself to be a very diverse genre over the years, with a number of artists pulling black metal in different directions and creating a multitude of stylistic variations whilst still retaining the initial spark that made the genre such a force to be reckoned with in the first place. Philadelphia based newcomers Shadows In The Crypt stick to the formulas laid down by the likes of Emperor and Marduk for the most part, but throw in a hefty amount of thrash and melodic death metal influence too. Unfortunately however, this mixture is not quite as potent as it could have been…
‘The Vengeful Gathering’ is probably the finest song on offer here, storming in with an old-school defiance and distant, cold production. The staccato drumming that creeps in hints at the fact that these guys aren’t bound too rigidly by the influence of the old masters, before an unexpectedly face peelin’, sweep pickin’ solo blazes in to confirm these suspicions. ‘Embracing The Forbidden Arts’ features some distant, chanting vocals that sound like they’re being run through some kind of Satanic flanger, and an awesomely grim black’n’roll style riff around halfway through, bringing to mind ‘Ravishing Grimness’-era Darkthrone. Bizarrely, this leads into another shredding solo, faintly reminiscent of some of Nile’s flashier fretwork. ‘Hymnal Choirs Perishing’ ploughs more traditional territory, with some ‘Transylvanian Hunger’-derived riffing and pseudo-Attilla style vocals, before a slightly clumsier mid-paced breaks the atmosphere. ‘The Baphomental Affliction’ opens with one of their strongest riffs, but loses momentum once the band ease off on the blasts and veer into thrashier, more melodic territory.
And herein lies the problem; whilst many of these songs start off well, the band try to cram one too many ideas into each tune and ultimately end up losing focus, resulting in an uneven and strangely unsatisfying listen. The drumming shows a lot more variation than a lot of traditional black metal, for better or for worse. It’s hardly flashy, but some of the riffs seem to be calling out for a more simplistic, primitive style and just don’t seem to gel with a lot of the death metal styled rhythms at play here.
The band fails to conjure up much of an atmosphere at all over the course of these 9 tracks (despite the best intentions of opener ‘Beneath Threatening Skies’, with its rain sound effects and eerie acoustic guitar), but there are just about enough interesting ideas to sustain them. Whilst this may be quite an uneven and disjointed album, those who like their black metal more melodic than evil will probably still find much to enjoy here. Apparently guitarist and founding member Lawrence Wallace completely rebuilt the band from scratch for this album (their second), so maybe this new line-up just needs a bit of time to find their footing. There’s definitely promise here, let’s just hope the band manage to iron out their inconsistencies and produce a more coherent record next time.
Originally written for http://rawnervezine.co.uk/
I don't understand how most of the black metal fans around the world ignore the fact that the American black metal scene is really solid, although the European black metal scene is way more vital, but some great acts like Judas Iscariot and Kult ov Azazel and Xasthur cant be ignored, and here is Shadows in the Crypt is proving the rigidity of the American pure black metal scene with their second full-length album "Cryptic Communications".
This record can be described as a dark journey into the unknown, the pure spiritual dark feelings that can be felt in these eight tracks are wonderful and solid. I didn't hate any element has been added to this record, because simply every element plays its role perfectly to create such a demonic and atmospheric sound. The members managed to make every instrument capture a part of the listener's mind, the drumming and the lead guitar were my favorite parts in this record because they are the first things to catch your attention while playing this CD. What makes the structure of the tracks grim and solid is the fact that the composition is influenced by great black metal acts such as Emperor and Watain and Dark Funeral.
If you bring a cup of "The Secrets of the Black Arts" and mix it with a cup of "Sworn to the Dark", the bitter mixture is to be called "Cryptic Communications", and this is exactly what you will feel while listening to tracks like "Hymnal Choirs Perishing" and "Revolutionary Genocidal Madness" from this record. The vocals that have added more dim and demonic feelings to the tracks crossed the limits and made the solid structure of the tracks more powerful and devilish in tracks like "Embracing the Forbidden Arts" and "As Shadows Cover". The fast and melodic solos of the tracks "Cryptic Communications" and "The Vengeful Gathering" have added more vital role for the lead guitar to capture a wide range of the total sound, and this makes the tracks look more complex and intense.
Overall, if you think that the modern American black metal scene is not strong enough to be rival, then you have to check the success that that the American band "Wolves in the Throne Room" had when they've released their album "Celestial Lineage" and you have to check the amazing tracks that the band Shadows in the Crypt created in this record. If you consider yourself a black metal fan then you have to own a copy for this record immediately, every track in this record is worthy listening. If you're not a fan of the American black metal movement then you have to check this record to be introduced to this amazing world of glimmering darkness.
Originally written for:
Contrary to a lot of the US black metal of the last decade, known to heavily experiment with outside influences and mutate the genre's roots into atmospheric, often ambivalent new forms, there is a countersurge of recent groups who trace their inspiration more directly to the incendiary Scandinavian roots of the early 90s. Pennsylvania's Shadows in the Crypt fits readily into this category, with the clear motifs of death obsession and cult incineration implied through both the cover artwork and the primal, poseur shredding intensity of the music they compose. This is ugly, fierce and unforgiving music, equal parts De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and In the Nightside Eclipse (sans the symphonics), with a healthy trace of older Marduk and even some late 80s Morbid Angel what with the explosive nature of the leads and shift on a dime dynamic riffing collisions.
They're also not entirely devoid of atmosphere, as they set up the record with the eerie and apocryphal acoustics of "Beneath Threatening Skies" or the intro to the later title track, both of which reminded me of how the thrash band Testament used to build momentum, only Shadows in the Crypt instead erupts into this face melting, blast-beat driven form of black metal which hearkens back about 15 years to when bands were challenging one another with what they could accomplish at such velocities. Higher pitched tremolo picked chord textures dash out into the infernal nightscape, often enforced with these crazy breakdowns where double bass rolls off against a searing solo melody as in "The Vengeful Gathering", and I like that some obvious effort was placed in the note progressions to evoke an exotic, at times Eastern sense of dire melody that brings a ritual appeal to the violence. The leads are unanimously sporadic, wicked and exciting, a reflection on the band's early extreme metal influences (black and death). Vocally, the central rasp emissions are hardly unique in this field, but they're enforced with some rugged growls and ominous, distant choirs and chants, or deeper, baleful clean vocals that blend in well against the abrasive, neck-snapping rhythm section.
Ultimately, where Cryptic Communications might lack a truly distinct flavor, it compensates with this rare authenticity that stirs up the nostalgia for the formative years of the genre. You feel that same sense of black clouds smothering the landscape, fallen angels beginning to rain down from the heavens to the pits of ash and purgatory beneath, that you once felt when the legends were releasing records overseas. There are occasions on the album in which the blasting and riffing can seem too cyclic or repetitive, but in general they do well to keep the tempos and patterns shifting, and they never bloat their tracks to incomprehensibly dull lengths (rarely above six minutes), so there is no need for ceaseless and mundane repetition. The production is far from elegant: it's vicious, remorseless and at times mildly uneven, but the drums snap along under the dense and maniacal strain of the vocals and guitars, and you definitely feel threatened throughout, which is precisely the reaction I desire from such a work. Not the most impeccable, amazing or flawless record you're likely to hear in this category, but a strong, exciting sophomore nonetheless. Clearly they've got a handle on what they're bringing to the feast, and they serve up the souls of their audience with a necromantic flair.