My Ad Nauseum record came in the post last week and I was excited as hell to slap that baby on the turntable and blast my brain with dissonance. As I was ripping into the packaging like an over-eager toddler, my mother-in-law stopped me in my tracks and asked me what it was. Not that she doesn’t know what records are of course. I showed her the artwork and the transparent smokey double LPs for Imperative Imperceptible Impulse and explained that it was avant-garde death metal, and it was interesting to me because it pushes what is already a very challenging genre close to breaking point.
“Phew, that was a tricky question,” I thought, and immediately went back to planning my escape from the family for approximately 57 minutes. Then I was hit with an even harder question.
“What is it you like about death metal then?”
Where do you even start with a question like that?! I love hard and fast music. But gabber is both hard and fast and I’m not a fan. I love that death metal often tackles subjects that are considered taboo. But blues and jazz have been there before too. Hell, even 80’s ska often went deep into things nobody wanted to talk about. I couldn’t tell her the truth of course. If I told her I like z-list death metal so I can get internet points from strangers on Twitter, I’d have to explain Twitter, why internet points are and are not real, and it would be a whole thing.
What I really wish I had at the time is a copy of All Light Swallowed, the second album by Lithuania’s Crypts of Despair. These nine black slabs of dissonance and despair would have served as a brilliant introduction to everything I love about the genre.
There’s somewhat of an OSDM revival at the moment, and the lazy among us might lump Crypts of Despair into that.
This is too interesting and layered to simply be OSDM. Not that I have a problem with ye olde death metal. Celestial Sanctuary and Frozen Soul both recently put out fantastic albums that have been deservedly hyped. But when someone says OSDM, you know exactly what you are getting and there isn’t as much room for experimentation before the caveman-riff lovers are no longer interested. What I love about All Light Swallowed is that they treat death metal as a jumping-off point, and explore the outer edges of what is possible while staying in the confines of the genre.
For example, guitarist and bassist Dovydas and Simonas take turns handling vocal duties, providing both a demonic bark and a tortured scream. Both are DM staples, but not at the same time. Not only do they go back and forth line for line, but they also combine like the Megazord of death metal vocals to provide almighty punctuation to end a section.
The more common arrangement of having the main singer handle 90% with a guitarist or your bassist providing backup would have been completely wasted here when you have two perfect voices in the band. The added punch you get from the vocalists switching mid-verse is well worth the hassle of having to soundcheck two vocalists. I’m joking about the soundcheck (or am I?), but this is one of the details that makes this such a perfect album.
As a drummer, I have to note that the drums sound fucking insane. From the off, we hear the ride bell as clear as your gran’s best crystal before Henri flies into an incredibly tight and crisp-sounding blastbeat, notable simply because you can actually distinguish each note, even though the snare, kick and ride are being hit at the same time. Yes, I’m aware I’ve just described a blastbeat but it’s rare that you hear a drum sound this sharp on a record that plays with dissonance and darkness as much as Crypts of Despair do.
I often focus on drums, but the truth is that clean production across the board allows every instrument to shine without the end result sounding too polished. A life-long guitarist will also find this album to have a superior tone. Even the rumbling low end of bassist Simonas is allowed space to thump you in the chest, especially on instrumental closer Bleak View.
I started off talking about Ad Nauseum, but this wasn’t just a device so I could segue uncomfortably. Crypts of Despair do peddle in the dark arts that have been perfected on Imperative Imperceptible Impulse. However, instead of going off the deep end and making a Marmite record, they use dissonance and unsettling disharmony within the confines of a traditional song structure in the same way you can change up your scrambled eggs with a little bit of cumin and lime for a little extra kick.
The only fault I can find with this record is that there are passages where the rhythm section has to step in to make a more generic-sounding section sound interesting or special. This is also a positive in that I quite like interesting rhythm sections, but it’s worth noting all the same.
Like rum and ginger ale, this is a big glass of dark and stormy. Get it down your neck before I steal it from you and add it to my post-lockdown hangover.