Cryptic Shift – Visitations from Enceladus Review

While I’ve traditionally identified as a basic black metal bitch, my listening habits of late have hovered firmly above death metal territory. The art of the Big Dumb Riff has held absolute command of my Spotify search bar, and it’s all thanks to the diversity the genre pool has spawned in over three decades of evolution. Just as I finish my most recent round of dick flattening at the hands of something as unflinchingly savage as Black Curse, I know I can hop to the opposite end of the technical axis to enjoy similarly aggressive highs in a fresh context. Cryptic Shift‘s debut is about as far from something like Black Curse as you can imagine on the caveman riff spectrum, but those same thrills are all here. Astonishingly fun in a way that transcends its deeply progressive template, Visions of Enceladus is a remarkable offering of thrashing death metal.

Cryptic Shift invokes many greats in the pantheon of death metal, but before I had absorbed a moment of their music, I was reminded of Rush. Visions of Enceladus follows the 2112 school of album construction, hogging side A with an absolute chonker of a track. “Moonbelt Immolator” is a progressive death metal odyssey, effortlessly hopping between movements which recall Atheist‘s jazz death, Vektor‘s wild tech thrash1, Cynic‘s spaced-out prog, and even Blood Incantation‘s vulgar cosmic death metal. These pieces smoothly interlock, not necessarily because they follow a logical trajectory, but because of the propulsive nature of the riffs and transitions. I can’t help but feel downright giddy as I’m dragged through this monolithic composition, because from the bouncy rhythms to the joyously melodic guitar solos, extreme metal is almost never this fun.

Strong songwriting isn’t “Moonbelt Immolator”‘s highest priority, and considering that the track closes by reprising its best thrash section, that is fine. The following tracks pick up the compositional slack regardless, consolidating Cryptic Shift‘s influences into tighter, more thematically compelling offerings. “(Petrified in the) Hypogean Gaol” is the most thrash-minded of the bunch, wrapping colorful and dizzyingly kinetic chord progressions in classic prog flourishes. “The Arctic Chasm,” meanwhile, doubles down on death metal and dark melodies, while “Planetary Hypnosis” closes the proceedings with less compositional complexity in order to highlight the purest distillation of Cryptic Shift‘s pristine riffcraft. And just like that, Visitations of Enceladus is over, with only four tracks yet nearly no moments that could be called anything other than massively entertaining under its (moon)belt.

The frankly absurd fun factor owes as much to Cryptic Shift‘s talent set as it does their novel splicing of influences. It’s a blast hearing guitarists Joe Bradley and Xander Bradley dance around each other in disorienting yet precise harmony, and the ladder’s deep, barking vox are a perfect match for the band’s death/thrash balance. The sharp, bouncing beats of drummer Ryan Sheperson make for a borderline jubilant rhythmic bedrock, and where so many death metal bands obscure their bassists under the wall of guitars, John Riley rises to highlight status through adventurous background leads that add greater melodic complexity. The performances compliment each other on a prestige level that I don’t perceive in many bands, and every member shines equally bright thanks to the excellent production. The absolutely classic tones at work, paired with what is essentially a perfectly balanced mix, makes for a natural and live sounding experience. Visions of Enceladus might just be the best sounding record I’ve heard all year.

Considering the monolithic opening track, I had expected Visions of Enceladus to make for a challenging review. And truth be told, this was a tough write-up, but only because the entire record ended up being so engaging that delving too deeply into its mechanics would have undermined its listenability. It’s rare that a band can completely live up to its own influences – especially when there are so many spliced together – but Cryptic Shift stands toe to toe with every one of the countless bands they pull inspiration from. Death metal mark or thrash metal fiend, it matters not; this is universally enjoyable metal, and easily one of the most recommendable records I’ve ever covered.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Blood Harvest Official | Bandcamp
Websites: cryptic-shift.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/crypticshift
Releases Worldwide: May 4th, 20202

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Here presented without the lingering toxic cloud of domestic abuse.
  2. Ha ha, oops. This is what happens when pandemic depression hits like a fucking cement truck: You start eating like shit, completely give up your workout schedule, and become so burnt out on life that a nearly finished review ends up languishing in drafts for months. I apologize to our readers, my editors, and to the band for sitting on this piece for so long. This record deserved a much better showing from me.
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