Written by Kyle Messick
This week I’m doing something different by doing a deep-dive on one of my all-time favorite bands. If you’re new to Cryptopsy, this might be a helpful way of knowing where to jump into their discography.
Cryptopsy are a Canadian death metal band that formed in 1992, or as early as 1988 if you count earlier lineups with different band monikers. In my youth, Cryptopsy were my absolute favorite band, and that’s largely due to three aspects that fans of the band adore: 1) the labyrinthine guitarwork of Jon Levasseur, 2) the feral, deranged, and seemingly unpredictable barked snarls of Lord Worm, and 3) the phenomenal drumming of Flo Mounier, who is unquestionably one of the most talented drummers in extreme metal. These qualities largely defined what people loved or hated about the band, and also what largely contributes to why some fans don’t like some eras of the band. I’d also like to throw out a fourth major contributor to their sound, which is the incorporation of technical and unorthodox (for death metal) bass techniques by Éric Langlois. As a bassist myself, I largely fell in love with the bass after hearing that partially slapped bass solo on setlist staple Slit Your Guts, but since Éric’s bassplaying has been there longer than the other three elements mentioned, and I don’t know how crucial it is for other listeners, I won’t be using that element to identify the majors changes in the band.
In 1993 Cryptopsy released the Ungentle Exhumation demo, which saw Lord Worm at his absolute best. There are screams on the demo that will send chills down your spine, and are nearly unrivaled on any recorded by any band. His gutturals sound almost like a rabid dog, with vocal patterns rarely placed where one might expect. Lord Worm and Flo Mounier were on here, but it wasn’t until their 1994 where all of the elements that fans most adore from the band came together.
The Golden Era (1994-1996). This is where Jon Levasseur would join the band, who would define the Cryptopsy riffing style for decades to come. The first two Cryptopsy albums are death metal classics, which seamlessly blended brutal breakdowns, catchy/digestible songwriting, technical fast-tempo playing, and creative flourishes, which are all made all the more unique by the serendipitous trinity of Lord Worm, Flo Mounier, and Jon Levasseur. Lord Worm also brought an artistic flair with his lyrics, which due to his English background in academia, were lyrics that felt artistic in their vulgar boundary-pushing, but while also adding some observed gravitas of the human condition in other areas. Most would list one of the two full-length albums from this era, Blasphemy Made Flesh and None So Vile, as their favorite from Cryptopsy’s storied discography.
The Technical & more Hardcore era (1998-2000). Lord Worm left the band after their sophomore album, but he would still contribute occasional lyrics to the next couple of releases. Next came in vocalist Mike DiSalvo, who brought a completely different tonality of voice from Lord Worm’s mixture of feral barking and goosebump-inducing shrieks. Mike DiSalvo had played in a sick death metal band called Infestation for years before his time in Cryptopsy. In Cryptopsy, his vocals were more of a hardcore-styled growl. They were forceful and powerful, with Mike himself seemed like an unstoppable wrecking ball on stage. This vocalist change drastically changed the Cryptopsy sound, which led to the first major division among Cryptopsy fans. In addition to this, guitarist Jon Levasseur got more technical with his riffs and songwriting, so the next two albums weren’t nearly as digestible for many fans. However, those fans that spent time with the two albums from this era, Whisper Supremacy and And Then You’ll Beg, would find two of the most unique mixtures of brutal and technical death metal ever recorded, and for many, these are two masterpieces that can sit alongside the first two albums that Cryptopsy put out.
Construction and Deconstruction (2003). Mike DiSalvo left the band and then joined Martin Lacroix, who was a great vocalist as shown by the underrated Spasme debut, ‘Deep Inside.’ Martin Lacroix is also well known for his art and tattoowork, which you’ve probably seen among bands like Augury, Beyond Creation, and Gorguts, among others. His live performance on Cryptopsy’s only live album, None So Live, showed that Martin was competent and tight, and able to impressively emulate both Lord Worm and Mike DiSalvo’s vocal approaches. He even ambitiously attempted the incredibly long scream that Lord Worm was known for on the track ‘Open Face Surgery.’ Sadly, despite my dreams of an album someday coming out of their time with Martin Lacroix, that did not occur.
An attempt to rekindle the golden era (2005). Lord Worm rejoined the band, so anticipation among fans was immense. However, Cryptopsy’s main songwriter, Jon Levasseur, had left the band. ‘Once Was Not’ was the album that came from this new lineup, but it had fans torn. It was an ambitious concept album, with each song seamlessly transitioning into the next. Musically, it didn’t sound anything like the last couple of albums, as with Jon’s absence, it was less technical, however, it still felt inspired and digestible, and had some strong songwriting. This wasn’t the only thing that caused further division among fans; Lord Worm also didn’t sound like he did on earlier albums. Worm himself explained that he was trying to bridge the gap with DiSalvo’s approach, but it still caused a number of fans to be disappointed. I also saw them live on this tour, and although Lord Worm has a unique stage presence unlike anything I’ve ever seen (crazed, with lots of pacing, and headbanging off-time), he would also frequently miss his cues, and seemingly forgot whole chunks of his own lyrics. Despite this rockiness, Once Was Not was not well received by all Cryptopsy fans, but for me, I think it’s an absolute masterpiece that can deservedly sit at the table alongside the first four Cryptopsy albums. I think the key to enjoying it is listening to it in its entirety, rather than as individual sounds (although ‘Endless Cemetery’ is an absolute banger).
Change and division (2008). Up until this point, despite the many changes in the band, and the trinity of fan favorite components coming and going with the exception of drummer Flo Mounier, Cryptopsy had remained a death metal band that mixed brutal death metal with technical death metal in ways that no other bands had before or since (with maybe a couple of exceptions of bands that emulated them, like Infliction). Perhaps to attempt to tap into the popularity of metalcore and deathcore, Cryptopsy recruited vocalist Matt McGachy from the metalcore band 3 Mile Scream, and the sound of the band drastically changed. It no longer sounded like death metal, there were clean vocals, and the gutturals sounded more like they came from the deathcore scene, rather than from the death metal background of Lord Worm or the more hardcore sounding approach of Mike DiSalvo. Lord Worm was gone. Jon Levesseur was gone. All that was left was a band that sounded nothing like any of the elements that Cryptopsy was known for, besides the continued stupendous battery of Flo. This would cause the greatest division among Cryptopsy fans to date. I was among them, as Cryptopsy was my favorite band until their next album, The Unspoken King dropped. I felt that their discography was flawless up until that point, and I still feel that way. They were still incredible live on this tour, as Matt does a great job on their previous material. I believe the band was frustrated with the backlash to the release, as illustrated by an intro clip that depicted a child throwing a fit (i.e., throwing shade at fans that disliked the album), but despite Cryptopsy pushing back at fans, they still largely played a greatest hits set that only featured one song from their widely loathed new album.
The rekindling (2012-present). It was clear that what Cryptopsy did on The Unspoken King did major damage to the band in terms of popularity and reputation, as the album clearly wasn’t what fans wanted. Cryptopsy attempted to return to their roots. Matt McGachy worked hard to improve his gutturals, as evidenced by all the releases that would follow. His gutturals largely vary between a mid-range and high-pitched guttural that are more similar in tonality to DiSalvo than Worm. Their next full length would see Jon Levasseur return to seemingly get the band back on track and restore the legacy that he built. Their 2012 self-titled LP brought back the technicality and the brutality, and is easily my favorite material since Matt joined the band. It’s a challenging, ferocious album, but that is more digestible than Whispery Supremacy or And Then You’ll Beg. Levasseur left after rekindling the Cryptopsy sound, and for a while Youri Raymond joined the band and contributed a couple of songs to a Cryptopsy best-of collection. Youri is a musician with skill and creativity that can parallel Jon’s, but perhaps more importantly in this context, he’s also one of the most unique and talented extreme metal vocalists, as shown by his work with Unhuman. He has a type of predator guttural that is absolutely other-worldly, and thankfully, he would use this live during his time with Cryptopsy, and he included some backing vocals on the few tracks that he recorded with the band. Youri also left the band shortly after.
This leads us to the next two releases, two EPs under the titles ‘The Book of Suffering’ tomes 1 and 2. Interestingly, the title of these releases originally came from Lord Worm, as he had teased some ideas about an album that would be yet another ambitious murder epic. These EPs show Cryptopsy trying to tap into that old school death metal magic, and although they’re competent enough death metal releases, they’re just missing that challenging factor. They’re technical and brutal, but maybe not original. They don’t go too much deeper than what is heard up front, and part of this might be that Cryptopsy is now only a single-guitar act, whereas Jon Levesseur usually had a counterpart, both live and on album. The Cryptopsy sound had thinned, and the evolution has seemed to stop. Two of the three components of the band that fans always gushed over have come and gone again and again, revitalizing the band with each return, but now it looks like their departure may now be final. The Cryptopsy standing in the ashes is still a competent death metal band, but I hope that they will find their own sound and that they will someday bring us with another major innovation that paralleled what fans experienced on None So Vile, Whisper Supremacy, and Once Was Not. Maybe The Unspoken King was just a major failed attempt at innovation (and the first one that didn’t win me over), but I know I’m hungry to hear whatever Cryptopsy do next, regardless of how it might further divide listeners.