Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cryptopsy- None So Vile

Extreme metal's main shortcoming is that it usually turns into a competition: to be the rawest, the fastest, the "sickest," the heaviest, the longest songs, the shortest songs, the most chaotic... etc. Meanwhile, everyone knows that the greatest metal bands--Metallica, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath-- are none of these things; they just wrote the best songs and riffs.

Now, None So Vile is not a record you can just throw on, unless you are only trying to frighten your 14-year-old cousin who listens to Melissa Etheridge. This record exemplifies this blog's viewpoint on metal: one must either pay attention to it, or leave it alone entirely (which must be the fate of thousands of Cryptopsy CDs, purchased for their "brutality" and then sitting on a shelf unplayed). The first thing that should be said about Cryptopsy is that it really makes no difference whether you consider the album to consist of eight songs (as the CD indicates), or one long song (as my parents would say), or a million little unrelated parts pasted together.

There is a kind of conceptual synaesthesia that Cryptopsy are completely reliant upon, but which has gone unnoticed as such: namely, why should "chaotic" and "brual" go together as a sonic pair, at all? Cryptopsy make it looks easy, but there's no natural affinity between the out-of-control or unorganized, and bludgeoning force. Grand Central Station can be "chaotic," and a trip to the dentist can be "brutal," but those experiences don't resemble each other. The genius of Cryptopsy, I think, is making extremely complicated music that is never "noodly" or meandering--though I must confess they have a tragic penchant for slap bass. At times, the songs verge on feeling edited-together ex post facto (like Miles Davis' early 1970s albums). But while a Cryptopsy song rarely *ends* well, they often begin distinctively, and one eventually finds a grip on these "songs," even if the writing and rehearsing of this music is inconceivable.

The way to listen to this record is to just follow it very intently: nothing is going to "jump out" at you if you stray in the least, while rapt attention is rewarded. The vocals are a dead-end; I recommend just paying attention to the drums for an entire listen through. The album is well-constructed, and there are countless neat parts, and it is shockingly well-paced.

i began by suggesting that None So Vile is out for a Guinness Book of World Records style of metal: most brutal, fastest, most chaotic--and it undoubtedly is (or was at the time) all of those things. This is an unhappy, very loud record. But I don't think that says anything about its appeal, which is in its constant shifting of attention and its intricacy, so that many have felt, far from being the superlative of death metal's excesses of metal-ness, that there is something avant-garde and high-concept about this release. That is perhaps in the mind of the non-metal listener, but it does suggest the basic topography here.

Score: 4 Stars/5 (****)
Best songs: "Crown of Horns," "Phobophile," "Slit Your Guts"

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