If you wander over to the Bandcamp page for Cryptic Shift’s full length debut Visitations from Enceladus, you’ll easily glean the expected bits of information: genre tags (death, thrash, progressive, technical, etc.), location (Leeds, UK), label, price, formats, yadda yadda. But you’ll also quickly notice that the record has only four songs, and that the first is nearly 26 minutes long.
Now, ultra long metal tracks are a decades old tradition, but the runtime of “Moonbelt Immolator” still can’t help but lead to some impressions and questions before even hearing the song. First is the level of confidence it takes to even attempt something like this on such an early release. Sure, they’ve been a band for about five years and have a few shorter releases, but this is how they chose to open their first full length. Can they really pull it off?
The second impression is one of curiosity. Does their obvious confidence spill over into how the music actually sounds?
We’ll handle that one first. Yes, the band’s confidence spills over into the music in massive and thoroughly gleeful ways. Visitations from Enceladus is flashy, brash, sassy, cheeky, boisterous, and pretty wild. It is indebted to some obvious and legendary influences, but carries enough unique personality and daring combinations to stand on its own. It’s smart and sleek, sure, but most importantly, it’s insanely fun.
Bassist John Riley might well be Cryptic Shift’s greatest asset, which is no small feat seeing as how everyone else performs. He carries that “could do anything” quality in his playing, constantly dancing above and below the rhythm work, adding tons of little fills and flairs, and directing the mood along in a multitude of ways. During a softer section of “Moonbelt Immolator,” his loose, drifty playing helps to give the song a feel similar to the middle passages of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” At other times, he’s required to join a dense spiral to maintain tension, and he holds his own just as much as the guitarists.
Speaking of those guys… every riff, slick harmony, and hot lick on Visitations from Enceladus communicates the unabashed exuberance of the guys playing them, while the soloing is downright thrilling. Depending on the situation, the solos might be wild and rockin’ (the trade-off duels in “Moonbelt Immolator”), gorgeous and classy (any time a smoother lead plays over a Human-y softer part), or fairly nutty (a wacky, controlled-chaos section in “The Arctic Chasm”), all with very active, busy accompaniment. Like the bass, not a second of the guitar work lacks entertainment value, even if the band occasionally stretches things out a bit more than might initially seem logical from a songwriting standpoint.
Which brings us to the only possible caveat about the album: there are certainly some ways in which the band could tighten up its songcraft. But… BUT… that caveat also has a major caveat: this band is just feeling it right now. Editing things down in places might work for other bands, but when the “IN THE ZONE” factor is this astronomical, it’s best to just let musicians do their thing. This album is as much a massive riff sandbox for these guys to explore as it is a set of songs, and it’s a damn fine set of songs, playful deviations and all.
So back to that first question about the massive opener (and the record as a whole, really)… do they pull it off? Yes, for the most part they do indeed, thanks in large part to all that confidence, but also due to their knowledge of decades of techy and daring metal. Cryptic Shift is clearly as obsessed with practicing their instruments and writing infectious riffs as were their vaunted heroes. Tighter songs might come with experience, but even if they don’t, who cares.
Let the kids play.