Kryptograf – The Eldorado Spell Review

With that album cover, you know exactly what you’re getting. You’ve heard it before – a bunch of musicians who smoked one too many joints in high school, and then one too many joints in college, and decided to share their boundless love for early Black Sabbath with the world. Norwegian four-piece Kryptograf is relatively new to the overcrowded stoner rock scene, but they made a splash with their self-titled 2020 debut, which melded vintage doom, hard rock, and psychedelic jams. Kryptograf was altogether enjoyable, but played it too safe by resting too heavily on its influences, as is often the case with stoner imitation music. Sophomore release The Eldorado Spell sees Kryptograf lean further into doomy desert riffing at the expense of meandering psychedelia, to establish a more hard-hitting sound.

Despite the tweaks to Kryptograf’s sound since their debut, you’ve heard much of The Eldorado Spell before. The closest comparator is Black Sabbath circa 1971, with the record’s fuzzy doom vibes echoing Master of Reality in particular. (Even the first acoustic interlude “Across the Creek” sounds suspiciously like Sabbath’s “Orchid.”) But Kryptograf’s guitarists Vegard Strand and Odd Erlend Mikkelsen dabble in higher-energy riffs (“Cosmic Suicide,” “The Eldorado Spell”) that sound akin to the psychedelic hard rock of Paranoid or Pentagram. The Eldorado Spell also incorporates minimalist guitar melodies that pay homage to modern psych-rock bands like Uncle Acid (“When the Witches,” “The Well”). Kryptograf mostly takes these influences as they are, blending them into a concoction of stoner tracks that are entertaining but feel familiar.

The Eldorado Spell hits hardest when it keeps things exciting and varied. Opener “Asphodel” has a slow start that leads into a stunning folk-tinged second half, which lies somewhere between Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “Symptom of the Universe.” In contrast, “Cosmic Suicide” uses a simple pounding riff as a foundation for the catchiest chorus I’ve heard in months, while closer “The Well” weaves together headbangable riffs and a beautiful harmonized chorus. Throughout the record, the most impressive aspect of Kryptograf’s sound is the bluesy performance of bassist Eivind Standal Moen, who channels his inner Geezer Butler to both take center stage (“Asphodel”) and drive the action with the guitars (“Creeping Willow,” “The Spiral,” “The Well”). This is supplemented by Kryptograf’s use of uncharacteristically interesting rhythms, with Eirik Arntsen’s drums driving captivating changes in energy and tempo (“Cosmic Suicide,” “The Eldorado Spell”). Strand and Mikkelsen also lay down a handful of 70s-inspired hard rock solos, which feel fresh and powerful by virtue of being used sparingly (“Cosmic Suicide,” “Creeping Willow,” “The Well”). These potent ingredients help the best parts of The Eldorado Spell feel lively even after several listens.

The rote Master of Reality worship on The Eldorado Spell is much less compelling. Much of the album consists of lengthy repetition of doomy “Lord of This World”-style riffs that aren’t interesting or memorable enough to make up for their low energy (“Lucifer’s Hand,” “Creeping Willow”). The most egregious offenders are “The Spiral” and “When the Witches,” which rely on shameless overuse of dull riffs interspersed with an even duller guitar jam. This makes the middle of the record a slog to get through, blunting the impact of the highlights. Weak repetition infects even the better songs; most notably, closer “The Well” has a strong first half that erupts into a climactic solo, only to fizzle out into an unsatisfying conclusion that rehashes the sluggish opening melody. These missteps might have been forgivable if The Eldorado Spell brought more new ideas to the table, but the laggard sections here are both forgettable and unwaveringly derivative.

The Eldorado Spell is an album of extremes. While it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, its high points pack a punch, even if you aren’t a Sabbath megafan. Along with the band’s impressive performances, these glimpses of excellence are a promising sign. But the low points are a real drag, especially given their unmistakable resemblance to half-century-old classics. Kryptograf might benefit from de-emphasizing the repetitive aspects of their sound in favor of their more creative and exciting ideas. While it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend The Eldorado Spell, its highlights are worth a selective listen, and the album could be worth your time if doomy stoner rock tickles your fancy. But you’ve heard most of it before.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Apollon Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: February 25th, 2022

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