Eyes close. The faint light that lingered in the bedroom vanishes beneath the curtains of eyelids. Sleep slowly envelops like a blanket wrapped tightly around the body. Consciousness shifts gears, opening a world that no longer operates under the normal laws of space or time. Peace, at least until another shift occurs—this time into obtrusive fear constructed from within the deepest recesses of the mind. The nightmare world takes hold, drawing the reeling brain deep into a tunnel of unfathomable, otherworldly horrors.
The album starts with the title track, beginning with a hollow nightmare portal opening up with a buzzing, ominous guitar. It seems to swallow the listener into a tube of eyelid fluttering REM terror—a tunnel that quickly tightens and squeezes in a suffocating cacophony of fuzz-laden noise. The absolute bludgeoning of the drums drive the song forward, as though forcing the square peg of its victim into a round hole—a world of angular, abstract horror. While there are certainly no electronic drums, there’s almost an industrial mechanization to the rhythmic structure. The way the riffs accentuate the downbeats only furthers the battery of sharp angular abstract melody.
The bass plays a crucial role, adding extra depth and crunch. The mixing on Nightmare Traversal is subtly brilliant, leaving a line just thin enough between the stringed instruments to create an impressionistic haze through the thick black smoke of the atmosphere. The popping strings of the bass at the introduction of “Cryptic Passage” set the stage for what sounds like a perverted, battering, beyond-the-grave take on something that resembles Battles’ “Atlas.” The drums are given plenty of room to work, somehow clear despite the insanely dense, distorted low end. As mentioned before, they have a certain mechanical precision, but the patterns and playing feel very human and organic. The longer stretches of songs like “Edifice” are almost entirely sold by the intense hypnotism of the percussion, with the bass filling out a thick ooze of muck and the guitar interjecting synapses of disjointed horror sparingly over top.
So, while early on the Portal analogy was made, it really only applies to the noisy, nightmarish atmosphere that Cryptae invoke. Whereas a band like Portal wear their Obscura influence on their sleeve in their riff construction, Cryptae take a much more barbaric approach to their craft. Nightmare Traversal isn’t the Old Gods wielding arcane magicks, Nightmare Traversal is the sound of the Old Gods dragging their fuckin’ knuckles across the furthest edges of the void. All the chugging, ignorant brutality that your favorite caveman death metal band of the week is bringing to the table is warped and inverted, from the straightforward pounding of “Concrete Inferno” that gives way to a head-smashing mid-pace, or the thick-as-molasses opening groove on “Oubliette” that’s so nasty it sets an irresistible sneer across the face of the listener. Within the more unique lens of Cryptae’s approach, these time-tested death metal sure-shot tactics are given new life when viewed through a freshly twisted, distorted prism of nightmares.
Nightmare Traversal marks the full-length realization of Cryptae’s style that has been present since the first track of their debut demo. Their sound is still firmly death metal, but it sounds like death metal turned inside out. When this realization hits, the black-on-white aesthetic of their album covers clicks into place: this is inverted death from another dimension, warped and twisted in the sleep-terror dream world of Cryptae. In a time where so much death metal seeks to Xerox the formula over and over, Cryptae are actually doing something that feels original and inspired. Nightmare Traversal is abhorrent in the most desirable way for those seeking to explore the darker side of consciousness through the medium of bone-crushing death metal.