One of the most difficult parts of being a new band is channeling your influences into an inventive sound that subtly conjures, rather than overtly copies, those precursors. Sadly, in the case of Long Island, NY quartet Cryptodira’s debut LP, The Devil’s Despair, that task proves marginally vain, as its greatest strengths—elegant and troubling atmospheres, some catchy melodies, and an overarching sense of epic continuity—are marred by a general lack of textural range and compositional originality. Add to that some extremely familiar shades of previous genre landmarks (specifically, BTBAM’s 2007 opus, Colors), and you have a moderately enjoyable progressive metal venture that simply doesn’t stand out when there are so many superior alternatives around.
According to drummer Matthew Taibi, the album “deals with the themes of dehumanizing social forces . . . which come from human activity and yet become confused for rigid, natural laws.” Rounded out by bassist/vocalist Jeremy Lewis, guitarist/vocalist Mike Monaco, and guitarist/vocalist Scott Acquavella, the group certainly has the technical and narrative chops to create a compelling conceptual journal, yet the aspects of The Devil’s Despair that most fully realize that potential are often overshadowed by a powerful sense of mundaneness and emulation.
To be fair, there are plenty of relative standout moments scattered around the record. Opener "Neutralization," for instance, is an effectively bleak and futuristic slice of instrumental minimalism, with echoed guitar arpeggios and harmonics complementing the proclamations of a computerized voice. It’s simple but successful in suggesting a sense of weighty storytelling to come. Afterward, “Constituted: II. Constituens” channels Cynic by offering a similarly gentle and dreamy contrast to the brutality of its counterpart, with Taibi’s gradual dynamic percussive build-up generating palpable tension and anticipation for the concluding explosion of growls and hellish riffs. Like its stylistic siblings, “Medusa Misgendered” strikes a fine balance between hellish and heavenly from start to finish, providing some truly drastic yet fitting segues between brutality and contemplative tranquility.
Later, “In Hell as on Earth” blends hypnotic guitar lines and falsetto singing to yield a poignant sequence, while the closing “Negation Consumes” duo—“Affirmation" and “Itself,” respectively—adds charming and impassioned female laments (of an unidentifiable singer) to the chaotic mix for an added layer of emotion and vibrancy. In fact, “Itself” ranks as the strongest track on The Devil’s Despair because of how well the male and female vocals unite during its most captivating section (about two-thirds in); in a way, it’s like Eisley suddenly became possessed by demons. The way it recalls the opening of “Affirmation” at the end is a nice touch, too, as it makes the pair feel truly united.
While those sections are striking, they’re also only highlights because they sufficiently disrupt the monotony that surrounds them. Other tracks—like “The Gods of Epicurus” and “The Fascist’s Phantasy”—are decent enough, but they feel quite run-of-the-mill as well, both in comparison to the rest of the disc and the genre as a whole. Aside from their bursts of novelty, even the majority of the tracks I just complimented are mostly formulaic and forgettable. They’re fine as background distractions, but you’ll quickly feel like you’re hearing the same stuff over and over again upon closer listening.
Despite some appealing and inventive moments here and there, the majority of The Devil’s Despair is repetitious and disinteresting, lacking the kind of intrigue, diversity, and freshness that new releases in the field require to be worthy of attention. It’s an okay collection in and of itself, yet it rarely attempts to reach beyond mere tolerability in any meaningful way. As a result, it quickly dissipates from your memory and falls by the wayside in comparison to the best that the genre has to offer these days. The aforementioned highlights do show potential, though, so Cryptodira may be able to course correct next time around.