Thanks to Zakk Weathersby for sending this one in. It used to be that Cryptic Confinement was his one man band, playing guitar and bass and programming drums. That was the case on the project's debut album, Wrath of the Morning Star in 2018. For its second album, which was released on Bandcamp this week, however, he brought in Burt Usry II and everything here is written and performed by the pair. I don't know who played what, but there are still no vocals, so this is an entirely instrumental release.
And I'm fine with that concept. Vocals are the usual reason why a band playing any genre of extreme metal might stop speaking to me. There's an irony in that phrasing, I know, but, if a band has a poor production or a bass that I can't hear or a drummer that can't keep up with everyone else, I can often still enjoy their work, merely with caveats. However, if I don't like the vocals, that can spoil the entire experience and I'm lost.
Talking of production, I like the music here a lot more than I like the production. It's not bad, but it's a little thin and, oddly for extreme metal, favours the high end of the spectrum rather than the low. I say extreme metal rather than a particular subgenre, because this plays in quite a few of them. Metal Archives calls the band melodic thrash metal and there's definitely some technical guitarwork that's fairly described as thrash, but that's not all that's here and this album isn't listed there yet anyway.
A number of songs, most obviously The Price of Defiance, do more than dabble in black metal. That's a drum thing more than anything, as they're often faster than any other instrument, but it's also found in the guitar tone. The Fury of Redemption initially feels like death metal and it also moves into what could be described as death/doom. The Bandcamp tags don't include either of those genres, but they do include epic doom metal, which initially surprised me.
Listening afresh, I realise that it's probably talking about what I thought of as fitting "atmospheric": some intros; much of the final song, Beyond the Catacombs; and the wildest piece here, which goes by the clumsy title of Necromancy/Inducens Post Bestiam. The first half of that is slow and atmospheric and, had the song ended with it two minutes in, I'd call it an interlude in between the heavy and fast material. The second is a drum solo.
Yeah, that's the most surprising thing anywhere on this album, along with the realisation that it isn't a problem and is actually a highlight. There's even a second drum solo, a short but effective exercise in patience that shows up midway through Beyond the Catacombs, but this one is long, running three and a half minutes, which is more than the opening song. I like it a lot, partly because it isn't just an attempt to prove how fast the drummer can play and partly because it ends up reminding me not of a rock solo but a taiko performance. The only downside is the drum sound, which is a mixing issue.
I'd suggest that the drums sound better in isolation than when backing other songs, but I should add that I dealt with it. I wonder if the black metal influence is what led the production to take this route, as that subgenre almost worships bad production, but this isn't muddy; it's just thin. The production is easily the worst aspect for me. This would be a better album with thicker, meatier production that gives the drums more power and the cymbals less. The guitars and bass could do with bulking up too.
So this is a mixed bag. I like the majority of the music, regardless of instrument. Technically, this pair are very capable and I appreciate the decision to throw in that long drum solo, not a usual thing for a band playing this sort of music to do. I like the variety, moving from doom to black to death. I dig the cover art. I don't like the production at all. I still can't get into the opening song, Iniquitous Domain, even looping back to it after getting used to the sound. It feels rushed to me and the drums don't fit. Fortunately I didn't stop after that one, because it gets better.
I haven't heard Wrath of the Morning Star, but it seems like this is a step forward from a solo project towards a band and it's definitely promising. I'd like to see how they develop from here, even if they stay instrumental. Thanks, Zakk!