I struggled with this review for months because this Crypt Of Kerberos disc presents something of an interesting quandary. As a reviewer, from time to time, I’m confronted with an album that I know is fundamentally good on many levels, but that yet doesn’t really connect with me. Obviously, music is a subjective art form – one man’s genius is another man’s steaming dung-heap, after all. But this game isn’t all an opinion; there are some qualitative factors to be taken into account. By and large, performance, recording values, innovation comparative to the peer group: Those can all be evaluated outside of a purely emotional experience. By example, even though they possess all the soul of your average empty box, it is clear that Dream Theater has learned more than their share of music theory and developed a nearly flawless instrumental technique. While I forever argue that the end result is Ambien in odd time, even such an avowed Dream Theater-mocker as I cannot deny that those yahoos can play and play well. In their mastery of their craft, they exhibit qualitative goodness, and yet I don’t enjoy anything more about them than giving Dan Obstkrieg a hard time because I suspect that he sings “Metropolis, Part 1” into his hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror. Somewhere between Dream Theater and me, something gets lost; I don’t get it, and I do get bored.
So the quandary then is this: Is World Of Myths good? Well, yes… And maybe, no.
For all the press-release praise of 1993’s World Of Myths being a lost classic of Swedish progressive death metal, I have to say: I don’t think I made it through this album once without drifting away and having to start over, in all the dozens of times I spun it. There’s absolutely nothing technically wrong with Crypt Of Kerberos’ shred-heavy and keyboard-tinged death metal – in fact, it’s quite good. But yet, for reasons I can’t really convey, it doesn’t connect with me on an emotional level, hearing it for the first (or thirteenth or thirtieth) time. These tracks are expertly performed and competently recorded, and, perhaps not as much now but especially when compared to the playing field in 1993, World Of Myths shows Crypt Of Kerberos pushing hard against the boundaries of the Swedish death metal scene. I cannot deny that these yahoos can play. But the result is still the same: I respect it, but I don’t quite love it.
Prior to this reissue, I’d only heard the one song compiled on the Swedish Death Metal comp released in tandem with Daniel Ekerath’s stellar book about the scene. That song, the album opener “The Canticle,” is one of the best on hand, its tempo changes and nimble guitar-work making it an excellent microcosm of the best bits of the band’s attack. Comparatively, many of the other Kerberos tunes are a bit more straightforward, though often no less crammed full of guitar wizardry, but they’re a bit also less distinctive. “Stormbringer” flirts with somber doom tempos, and “Ancient War” lumbers through a midtempo bulldozer blast bolstered by keyboard pads. Late-entry instrumental “Sleeping God” manages to be another standout, another coalescing of the band’s strengths.
This expanded edition of World Of Myths adds rehearsal demo versions of almost the whole album, with the exception of “Sleeping God.” Those demos suffer a bit beneath the expected raw quality, though they do manage to show that Crypt Of Kerberos could pull off their complicated arrangements and nimble performances in a more live fashion. Beyond that, the bonus tracks aren’t anything anyone but the most rabid Kerberos collector would ever intentionally play twice, though they certainly don’t detract from the remainder. The selling point here, of course, is the record itself, and the bonus tracks are only that: bonuses.
If you’ve ever wondered what it might’ve been like had Yngwie Malmsteen jammed with Unleashed and Dan Swano in 1993, then this will give you a good idea. Crypt Of Kerberos didn’t make a huge splash the first time around, and not for a lack of craftsmanship (and –womanship, since there is a female keyboardist herein). But, for all that it shreds and twists, Myths doesn’t lurk around in the back of my brain when the disc stops. It relies too heavily on pure shred without any transcendent songwriting to fully capture my prog love, and on the purely visceral front, for the same shred-happy reason, it doesn’t quite gut-punch me hard enough to really kick me down. Not all sparks catch fire, and this is one of those times – prog-death diehards, here’s one to investigate, but know that it’s no Focus, Crimson, Unquestionable Presence. It’s well done and clinically interesting, but for all its positive qualities, it’s still one that left me wanting something more.