The life of a metal drummer is one of near saintly asceticism. Your kit is about ten times heavier – and more expensive – than the six-strings that your guitarists snapped up off of craigslist. It breaks constantly and takes about half an hour to set up on stage, and while you’re busting your ass carting it around the rest of the band just loafs about because they’re too stupid to help set it up properly. And when you finally get to play it, nobody can see the intricacies of your cymbal work or the incredible sweatiness of your torso because a bunch of Rapunzely assholes are standing in front of you on stage. It would be a thankless task were it not for the dedicated few fans that really appreciate your craft. Kronos is such a fan. With albums from Ulcerate, Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan on the horizon and quickly approaching, connoisseurs of the kit such as myself are sure to spend this autumn in a fugue state as we slowly wrap our minds around ever more extreme rhythms. Yet before Billy Rymer could keep a beat, before Jamie St. Merat ever flourished across a half dozen cymbals, and before Tomas Haake started doing Tomas Haake shit, there was but one man who could just about make the incredibly talented guitarists in his band look like fucking amateurs. His name is Flo Mounier, and he is Cryptopsy.
Do you know what made “Crown of Horns” stick in my head for days after first hearing it? Not Levasseur’s solo, not Langlois’ thick bass work. Not a single riff could be recalled. Not a lyric could be distinguished. But ten seconds of cymbal work at the 1:35 mark? There isn’t a day I don’t recall it. None So Vile1 is about drumming, I like to say.
But the incredible thing about None So Vile is that it’s really not about drumming; It’s also about vocals, and guitar, and bass. And that piano intro to “Phobophile2.” Let’s take it step by step.
Eric Langlois basically invented brutal death metal bass playing on this album, and “Slit Your Guts” is his master class. While the grimy tones and loud drumming in the mix can mask his playing across much of the album, his intricate contrapuntal lines and sporadic mini-solos are unmistakable on the album’s second track. It’s an excellent performance and an example of the album’s almost uncanny precision in pacing. Every successive song brings something new to the table, yet the album itself is incredibly cohesive.
That stickiness in a large part owes itself to Jon Levasseur’s riffs and solos, which are subtly melodic but remain stunningly fast even in these halcyon days of Archspire and similar hyper-tech outfits. Take for instance, “Benedictine Convulsions,” which really only has three riffs if you listen carefully. Levasseur took a pittance of harmonic material, picked it apart and strung it back together with itself to create a finely woven song that’s incredibly brutal but very catchy at the same time. At its core the song is simple and self-similar, but the combined powers of Cryptopsy make it look like a hysterectomy by a Rube-Goldberg machine.
Then there’s “Phobophile,” and here we get into the real puzzle. Lord Worm somehow became even better at both of his almost entirely unrelated jobs, those being lyric-writing and vocal delivery. If you’re familiar with Cryptopsy, you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t, you need only attempt to follow his lyric sheet to understand. There have been a few truly great lyricists in death metal over the years, but none created anything so elegantly depraved, or howled it with such incoherent force.
And speaking of incoherent force, let’s circle back to the kit again. Mounier switches beats about a metric billion times over the course of “Orgiastic Disembowelment,” and though it’s not the album’s most memorable song, I’d bet it was one of the hardest to pull off for everyone in the band, especially the man setting the tempos. The best death metal musicians 1996 Quebec had to offer were acting on his whims, and Mounier just sounds like he’s having the time of his life, blasting away and shooting off fills that would come to define technical brutal death metal.
He does that rather well, don’t you think?