Cryptic Fog - Staring through the Veil - (8.5/10)
Published on October 11, 2017
In the mysterious arcane depths of death metal dwell some of the genre’s more unusual and forward thinking bands. Zealotry, The Chasm, Blood Incantation, StarGazer, Ghoulgotha, Nex Carnis, Kerosphorus, Morbius and other strange conjurers of the eldritch have been gaining varying degrees of attention in recent years. It’s a particularly notable movement if these oddball stylistic outliers really can even be called such as the genre experiences massive growth on a variety of fronts both “modern” and “traditional” as deceivingly reductive as these terms can be. Yet in the wake of the dissonant death metal’s gradual decay from forward thinking to mundane and yet another wave of worship bands beating the drums of Portal, Entombed, Bolt Thrower, and Death they emerge and this year, Cryptic Fog has joined the spectral onslaught alongside Suffering Hour and Unaussprechlichen Kulten in providing an alternative to the trifecta of modern, traditional, and dissonant bands. At once it is a product of today yet formed of concepts that hearken to something antediluvian compared to modern practices. Staring Through the Veil encompasses a wide variety of heritage and ideals in a vicious, becoming as much a testament to death metal’s still unexplored depths as it is a gateway to future expansion.
Cryptic Fog’s sound is difficult to find immediate reference points for; initially I was reminded of The Chasm who are a notable influence on them. Like those Mexicans (who are releasing their eighth album this year) their sound blends a variety of influences from the more melodic end of metal with the mysticism and aggression of its more extreme practitioners in lengthy track times but this is a highly general comparison. Whereas The Chasm come off as very proggy in a fashion best described as astral, Cryptic Fog are ripping savagery at times nearing or reaching the level of groups like Angelcorpse and Mexico’s Ravager. Each track is a fire and brimstone whirlwind where the boundaries between death, black, and thrash are near nonexistent, melted into one within a context of incessant yet deliberately orchestrated violence. Experienced metal collectors will be able to pick out a variety of influences from Teutonic thrash to dissonant black metal to the more frenzied beginnings of death metal but none of these are forcefully juxtaposed as in many bands whose main selling point is their purported eclecticism. In the violent fury of Cryptic Fog’s attack, it all melds together not to its detriment but rather reinforcing the unity and coherency of their music.
It’s easy to get lost in the steady flow of riffing and blasting akin to a constant barrage of chaingun fire. Thankfully, Cryptic Fog know are quite knowledgeable on fitting riff to function, using a steady background strum of fast ripping chords that gradually creating a distantly melodic backdrop through which they can thread through with short and arching melodies and even fragments of dissonance. Technique can shift amorphously among a variety of disciplines but typically more vicious power chords are used to create a hellish buzzing backdrop of cyclic patterns, building up momentum and texture in self-devouring cycles before filtering in upper register lead playing and homing in on consonant voicings, gradually moving from abstract violence to sharp and definite. “Delicate” is not a word I would typically use to describe metal set at this relentless pacing but Staring Through the Veil strikes a very carefully maintained balance between its desire for bestial mayhem and underlying mechanisms that gradually shift and alter intensity to better define aims and achieve objectives.
One thing that is somewhat unusual about Cryptic Fog and likely not intentional is how the approach to song structure is somewhat at odds with the riffing style. With riffing that rips through multiple generations of metal and reduces them to immediately compelling bursts of energy, it is somewhat unusual that they chose a very long winded approach to arranging them. With their shortest song at nearly six and a half minutes and the longest at 11, all these songs work through long layers of repeated riffing, wearing each one through until all the pent up energy breaks out and into another section that shifts the angle of approach, from whipping background strum to crunchier stompy chords or even rapidfire precision fired percussive chords to semi-rocky upper register harmonies. This approach is functional and does keep songs coherent. Yet at the same time, it can really test one’s patience to hear such a long winded, gradual approach that really tests the staying power of each riff. It works for a group such as Cultes Des Ghoules circa 2013’s Henbane due to the abstracted nature of their riffing and its usage in longer songs ambient in their approach. However for Cryptic Fog the immediately notable and sharply defined nature of each riff means that while they grab your attention right off the bat with their clever crafting and deft playing, their staying power is somewhat less so than the previously mentioned black metal group’s simpler, less ornate guitar work. Simply put; Cryptic Fog might have stronger riffs than a lot of their competitors but many of them come dangerously close or outright do overstay their welcome. Not to the extent of say, your average overhyped funeral doom band (if they can even said to be riffing in the first place) but it becomes notable even on the shorter tracks.
Still, this shortcoming isn’t irreparable or damning. It is perhaps their only real weakness other than the album being a little short at only five songs and when taken against all of their strengths, is not enough to substantially damper the album’s quality. It is undeniable that songwriting that builds more quickly on the swirling motions they conjure with every riff would be a welcome addition in the future. Yet in the context of their current approach to songwriting, they still perform quite admirably, managing to evoke the best parts of the underground without coming off as stereotypically “old school”. At the same time in spite of their varied influences and even slight progginess, they never really turn into another avant-garde band that solely exists for stroking egos and demonstrating the varied tastes of their musicians. The delicate dance between articulation and mayhem that defines this album is rare to find within death metal. Staring Through The Veil accomplishes it that even with somewhat dragged out songs that don’t fully justify their length, forges a fiery proclamation and a distinct voice amidst the maddening swarm of hunger and rot that death metal finds itself in today.