The Unspoken King
posted on 6/2008 By:
*sigh* Alright, here we go…
The Unspoken King has gotten an almost unprecedented amount of pre-release backlash and ridicule. Months even before its arrival on store shelves, fans everywhere have been decrying the album’s deathcore leanings and clean vocals as the ultimate metal betrayal, even going so far as bringing out the dreaded St. Anger comparisons. As a longtime fan and admirer of Cryptopsy, though mainly of their first two albums, I was just as shocked as the legions of other fans were when the promo for “Bemoan The Martyr” appeared on the band’s MySpace page, showcasing to everyone’s horror the whiny clean moans of new vocalist Matt McGachy and simplistic, accessible drumming and riff work. If the Canadians hadn’t already put doubt into their fanbase with the departure of brilliant songwriter/guitarist Jon Levassuer, the disappointing comeback and subsequent booting out of vocalist Lord Worm, AND the addition of the suspiciously trendy new members in vocalist Matt McGachy and keyboardist Maggie Durand, then Cryptopsy had seemingly nailed the final nail in their own coffin with the posting of that song, months before the full album was even leaked for download.
So, The Unspoken King has finally been released, and it will be interesting to see how many people who have yet to hear the whole album will still actually buy this in stores in spite of all the negative reactions it has gotten. I’m guessing the first question you readers will want to know is--does The Unspoken King live up to its hugely negative hype?
Actually, I was kind of disappointed at how painfully average this album is. Don’t get me wrong--The Unspoken King is not a good album, or even a decent one. But judging by some of the comments I’ve been reading around the internet, I was expecting the worst of the worst; the most sold-out, stripped down, disgraceful shitheap ever to be unleashed on the metal scene. The kind of album that metalheads can enjoy bashing for years to come. But I think those who have been calling this the sellout of all sellouts may be surprised at how much The Unspoken King actually sounds like a fairly characteristic, latter-day Cryptopsy album. It's just a very cheesy and forgettable one, with some experiments that go horribly awry.
Let me start off by telling you that the deathcore comparisons are way overrated. Musically speaking (the instrumentation, not the vocal variety), most of this material is quite similar to the band’s Whisper Supremacy/…And Then You’ll Beg era; that is, highly technical extreme metal (not death metal) with a multitude of influences and overbearingly demanding musicianship. In fact, I think if all the pre-release haters had spent more time listening to the actual songs instead of just the vocals, this album wouldn’t have gotten nearly the attention it has so far. Yes, there are a couple of lame, off-time breakdowns, and yes, some of the more noodly riffs have that kind of pointless note-scrambling feel that a lot of deathcore bands like Beneath The Massacre use to force-feed their musical “cleverness” on the listener. But between the maelstrom of different blast beats, riffs that alternate between chunky grooves and blazing melodies, and the hardcore-sounding screams of McGachy, this album really isn’t that different from Cryptopsy’s last three albums when looking at the structure of the riffs and the songs in general, and isn’t nearly as accessible as many have it out to be.
That isn’t to say that the material at hand is of high quality. Even if this album was made with the same lineup as Once Was Not, this would still be the worst Cryptopsy album by far in terms of song strength (though …And Then You’ll Beg is not far behind). While some decent riffs and catchy melodies surface in tracks like “The Headsmen”, “Contemplate Regicide”, and “Leach,” ultimately the songs as a whole fail to really make much of an impact at all from an instrumental standpoint when looking past the contrived extremity. The faulty production is partly to blame, plagued with exactly the same problems as Once Was Not; guitars are too low, drums are too high. So while the mix is continuously dominated by Flo Mounier’s overwhelming percussive onslaught (and yes, his skills are still on full display here, even when the material is sub-par), the guitars are left sounding woefully light and buried. Even when there are good ideas present, like the breakdown-turned-hyperblast in “Silence The Tyrants”, the guitars lack any sort of heft and fail to satisfy the heaviness-quotient that we metal fans desire.
This might not matter as much, if the guitars were actually playing much of anything worth hearing. There is some decent ‘Topsy riffing to be found sporadically throughout the album‘s eleven songs, but far more often the band is content to string together a bunch of bland, masturbatory passages that come off as boring and glued together, seemingly for the sake of being “technical.” This is 2008, and insanely fast drums, finger-cramping riffs, and quick tempo changes don’t cut it by themselves anymore--there has to be substance. In their glory days, Cryptopsy met this challenge more convincingly than just about any other death metal band, but those days are long gone, and on The Unspoken King it sounds like the band is trying to impress you more than write compelling songs. I can’t count the number of times I heard instruments seemingly playing completely at odds to one another, most commonly when Mounier is blasting the living daylight out of his kit while the guitars simply repeat some weak, incomplete riff. Even the outro piece “Exit (The Few),” which actually gets off to a cool and fairly creative start, degenerates into a pointless cacophony of blast beats and layered screams, closing the album on a feeble note. The one strong point of this release compositionally is the guitar solos, which are very well produced and actually manage to (sort of) conjure memories of the Blasphemy Made Flesh and None So Vile days; melodic, fast, and compelling. Pity that the solos are the only thing that justifies any real praise guitar-wise, and they are also the only thing keeping that songwriting score afloat above the “three” barrier. So while the writing on this album is not a complete failure, it's by no means a strength of The Unspoken King either.
Matt McGachy‘s vocals are where things get ugly, and where the majority of old fans of the band are going to turn their backs on this album and never look back. While McGachy’s screams have a pretty grating, Bring Me The Horizon-esque tint of throaty whininess to them, I was actually surprised how little this guy’s harsh vocals bothered me. There are a scant few moments where he does sound like he could be singing for Atreyu, but most of the time his screams really don’t sound that different from the band’s second vocalist Mike DiSalvo. So if you are one of the fans who respected and even preferred DiSalvo’s vocal style, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem with this side of the vocalist’s repertoire. So I guess that’s the…O.K. news. The bad news is that the much-maligned clean vocals are perhaps the only aspect of The Unspoken King that truly deserves the unabashed hate it has gotten--they really are fucking wretched. While they only surface in the latter half of the album, and only on “Bemoan The Martyr” are they truly unlistenable, any enjoyment that might have slipped into the listener’s subconscious during the last half of the album is likely to be replaced with hearty laughter and “What were they thinking?” shakes of the head whenever the cleans come in. The guy just sounds ridiculous when he sings; weak, incredibly whiny, even off-key at times. It's embarrassing, and even if this weren’t a Cryptopsy album (which makes it that much worse), this would still be a terrible performance. “Contemplate Regicide“ and “Bound Dead“ both contain overly-dramatic, faux-inspirational melodic breaks that, coupled with McGachy‘s shudder-worthy nu-metal wails, actually made me laugh my ass off for several minutes, and I can’t recall any extreme metal album doing that to me in recent memory. In fact, I’d have to say I enjoyed those two moments, just for their hilarity, more than the whole rest of the album. Take that as you will.
I know some of you were probably wanting to see an ultra-low score, and I was expecting to give one, but in the end The Unspoken King didn’t even piss me off enough to warrant that strong a reaction. It's bad, but it's not completely bad. The album’s overly choppy nature and totally unfocused variety make it a work more about individual moments than cohesive, well-written songs---some moments that are pretty good (the closing riff/solo of “Contemplate Regicide”), some that are fucking cringe-worthy (the beginning of “Bemoan the Martyr”). The bland and forgettable material found between the “pretty good” and “horrible” parts just seals the deal. But I have to say that in spite of everything that goes wrong with this album, I’ve heard much worse. It's not as bad as St. Anger (or even the new Deicide), and it doesn’t sink quite as low as the substantial pop-rock-influenced sonic overhauls shown by, say, In Flames on Reroute To Remain, or Nocturnal Rites on The 8th Sin. Rather, Cryptopsy have clumsily attempted to violate the heavy metal mainstream by rehashing their old sound in a more modern form, while simultaneously trying to extend their appeal to the Hot Topic crowd with poorly executed, fashion-conscious stylistic additions. To the most die-hard fans still remaining out there, who have been holding on to some faint glimmer of hope that the Cryptopsy you once loved will return to their former glory someday, consider The Unspoken King your wake-up call. The rest of us jumped ship long ago.
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