The realm of sci-fi thrash metal may be known more for adventurous song structures and grander compositions than the heads-down aggression of its less cosmically-inclined parent genre, but even within its comparatively epic framework, the 26-minute opener to Cryptic Shift’s debut album Visitations From Enceladus is pretty out-there. The runtime may be more befitting the infamously slow stylings of doom metal, but there’s nothing slow or laborious about the UK four-piece’s mind-melting blend of thrashy hyper-blasts and turbulent astro-death.
“The opening track ‘Moonbelt Immolator’ began as a paragraph or so of short phrases that described someone awakening inside a mysterious spaceship, afloat through the universe,” guitarist/vocalist Xander Bradley tells us. “They struggle to power the ship up and eventually crash land on a cracked moon, which the character traverses and observes the awesome but perilous landscape. Inside an abandoned facility there are strange mutations that pursue him until he locks them inside a nuclear chamber before he flees to an escape pod. This story gradually grew and took a larger form, the first part of the tale was what ‘Moonbelt…’ would be and musically it had to match the dynamics of the adventure.”
Evidently, it doesn’t take long for a discussion with the band to descend (or should that be ascend) into exceedingly strange celestial realms. The Leeds outfit’s remarkably dynamic music is inspired by the likes of Gorguts, Revocation, Timeghoul, Death (particularly Human), Sepultura (particularly Beneath The Remains) and the now rightfully disgraced Vektor (seriously, don’t give David DiSanto your money), but as unique as the band’s music is, it’s clear that they take their science fiction influences just as seriously. “If you want to sing about wacky monsters you made up and play weird nerdy scales then fuck yes I’m in,” Bradley exclaims.
Concept-wise, Visitations From Enceladus is a bizarre amalgamation of classic sci-fi films and grand cosmic horror à la H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness or video game studio FromSoftware’s 2015 title Bloodborne. This latter influence even sits front and centre on the record, with ‘(Petrified In The) Hypogean Gaol’ taking its name from a particularly spooky in-game location. “Bloodborne is a really cool game full of weird creatures and places, so it’s probably not a surprise that it (and Dark Souls) have influenced metal bands with its very dark Lovecraftian tone,” the frontman says. “I haven’t even finished it! It took me months to even get past the first area but somehow it draws you back into its intriguing world, like a piece of music that you can’t quite make sense of yet.”
Anyone who’s had the patience to finish a FromSoftware game will know exactly what Bradley means when he describes their beguiling pull, and it’s not being heavy-handed to suggest that what Cryptic Shift’s debut album does – particularly ‘Moonbelt Immolator’ with its exhausting length but captivating experimentation and creative guitarwork – has a similar effect on the consumer. The album’s Bandcamp page even comes with an accompanying bio that seems to introduce a grand cosmic narrative.
“It’s the journey that one of the two forms of the character from our 2017 single ‘Cosmic Dreams‘ experiences,” Bradley explains of the album’s narrative. “As mentioned before he wakes up on a ship but remembers nothing. The amnesiac is caught in the middle of a spacecraft dogfight in the asteroid belt of a gas giant, drifts through space and crash lands on a cracked moon, then escapes to the planet below where he finds the subterranean prison Hypogean Gaol.
“After a battle with the ancient one wherein it flees through a tremendous gateway, he resides in an Arctic Chasm. Here he refines newly-found powers that transcend regular physics, amongst other things he is able to live hundreds of years and conjure portals to other planes. It is during this song he uses shards of the gateway to gain access to the time wound of Rasskhazu, which you see on the main front cover of Visitations From Enceladus. He must wade through undimensional waters to a black obelisk in the distance – inside are age-old relics protected by imps that he must collect before facing his enemy once again.”
Of course, such information isn’t required to enjoy the album’s endlessly innovative music. You could quite happily enjoy the onslaught of riffs without knowing what the Hypogean Gaol is or why there’s relic-protecting imps inside the obelisk on the album’s cover, but it’s somehow thrilling to see a band having this much fun with their lyrics, and putting as much effort into an album’s theme and story as the music itself. It helps make Visitations From Enceladus the dumbfounding but exciting listen that it is.
It’s also a sign of a band creating the music that they want to make, filling a perceived gap in the current musical landscape. “A lack of interesting music here in the local UK music scene was a large motivation point for me to want to make impressive songs that others wouldn’t ‘get’,” Bradley tells us. “Thankfully the UK now has some great bands like Damim, Reprisal, Seprevation and Ageless Summoning to name a few.”
With such dynamic music, it’s a shame that the band haven’t been able to tour the album since its release in May, but during lockdown Bradley tells us that the band have aimed to stay active on social media, and are planning to record a music video for ‘Planetary Hypnosis’ as well as some video playthroughs of their songs. More recently, they’ve announced a split release with Inoculation, Astral Tomb and Replicant which will see pre-Visitations From Enceladus single ‘Cosmic Dreams’ on physical format for the first time, and they’re also planning special edition releases of their debut album.
“I’m always writing more of the story and songs,” Bradley also reveals. “But we’ll be able to get together and practise as a full band soon so maybe we will jam some of the new material.”
We’ve barely finished digesting their first album, but we certainly won’t say no to another bout of metallic sci-fi madness in the future…
For the full unedited transcript of this interview, head over to our Patreon.
Words: George Parr