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Paranoia be thy name - 93%

DeathsColdEmbrace, May 25th, 2006

By now Cryptopsy has gotten enough press and exposure that everyone knows how good each individual artist is (Lord Worm and Flo Mounier both gaining legendary status) and None So Vile is renowned the world over as a seminal work in death metal. As my score would indicate, I agree, but the reasons why aren't so simple.

There are plenty of bands that have the virtuosity Cryptopsy has, as death metal practically demands it in all arenas. The difference here is that each member functions as a complete dynamic within themselves, each layer having equal importance. Atmosphere is achieved without a spaced out production, extensive use of keyboards, reverb, or any other studio gimmicks. While the themes are perhaps less important than the vehicle itself, they are standard fare for such extreme music: paranoia, insanity, overwhelming violence, and of course anti-Christianity (what kind of metal would it be without it). But as I mentioned before, the delivery is what brings None So Vile above the rest of the crowd. Riffs swirl in and out of step while the drums morph in and out of highly patterned riffs, the whole time the tempo steadily increasing. The vocals betray anguish and distrust, causing the listener to occasionally look over his or her shoulder in suspicion. That suspicion is well founded as a quick turn is delivered with jarring bass fills and chords, only to be married yet again to the surmounting direction the rest of the instruments have already alluded to. The solos rely on traditional heavy metal chromaticism yet are tastefully strewn throughout the paranoiac chaos adding to both the accessibility and the labyrinthine freneticism of the album as a whole.

The reputation that this album has is a bit odd. Seen as the pinnacle of grinding speed, shredding riffs, and guttural vocals, many dismiss None So Vile as a mishmash of ideas not followed to their logical conclusions. Yes, this album does grind and shred, and yes the vocals are guttural indeed. But, even for 1996, this is not the pinnacle. Precisely because these elements are necessary for the dynamic of the expressive range, not some jocular novelty gimmick designed to appease moshing hordes. NSV does, however, have the capacity to achieve this effect, as I can see a simple fan of slamming NYDM getting into this as much as purveyors of underground musical esoterica. This album can be enjoyed played loudly or softly, and different elements make themselves present as such. High volume yields overwhelming blasted patterns and guitar slams, while low volume reveals the true psychogenic venom behind the tremolo-riffed melodies (while not being typically melodic, an argument can be made as I find many sections of this album getting stuck in my head).

When humans are lead into a certain direction (which anyone who listens to death metal is bound to be lead) and then entreated to something unexpected, there are often two distinct reactions. The first is obvious: attention regained from surprise or fear. The second is a more subtle, evolutionary reaction: inexplicable smiles or even laughter. This is from the same internal device as hearing a punch line of a joke (after all, if you expect the punch line it ceases to be funny). The point of these distinctions is that one of the joys (and, I suppose, horrors) of this album is the amount of times, after years of listening to it, I continue to recoil in terror as a shudder wracks my spine, only for it to be accompanied with a smile.

The samples at the beginning and end add to the ironic surprise, as it's clear while these artists take themselves seriously they also acknowledge a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humor that must be had to seriously involve yourself with something as absurd (in the most traditional sense) as death metal. One other aspect that I truly appreciate is that Cryptopsy doesn't disappear up its own ass and that its members know the value of restraint, resulting in the album being barely above 30 minutes.