Cryptae are a death metal act from the Netherlands. They have only two members: Kees Peerdeman on guitar and vocals, and René Aquarius on drums and vocals. Aquarius is best known as the drummer for jazz/grindcore/noise duo Dead Neanderthals, whose music began as frantic saxophone screeches over blast beats but has gone down a myriad of paths in the last few years, delving into extreme metal, dark ambient soundscapes, synth improvisations, and much more.

Cryptae operate in a narrower stylistic range, but are just as creative as DN. Their music is death metal of an extremely muddy, bleak sort, likely to appeal to fans of Portal or Ævangelist. The guitars chug along in a low enough range to make bass unnecessary, and the drums are a slightly blurred rumble, punctuated with thwapping kicks. The vocals groal and roar from the middle of the mix, like a large dog trying to be heard barking during an explosion.

The duo’s first release was a self-titled, four-track demo cassette. That was followed by a single, the nearly 19-minute “Vestigial,” which was surprisingly complex, moving through multiple distinct stages.

Their first full-length, Nightmare Traversal, is out this week. It contains seven tracks and runs just over a half hour. Each piece has its own distinct character, but there’s a general primitivism that runs through it all, the jackhammer drums and bulldozer-in-second-gear guitars grinding over the listener with little variation and none of the usual opportunities for catharsis offered by more straightforward death metal (guitar solos, breakdowns). Occasionally, small sonic touches leap out: there’s a buried bell-like tone on “Oubliette” that momentarily creates an occult atmosphere reminiscent of Samhain, and the guitars on “Monastic Tomb” are so scooped out and distorted they sound like sculpted static, though at the very end of the track they launch into a riff that sounds like Napalm Death circa Utopia Banished. Only the final track, “Cronos,” is a true departure; it begins as a dubby, almost postpunk dirge, an oozing synth line repeating unto infinity over a gut-churning bass line and almost ritualistically minimal drumming. Just over a minute and a half in, though, it changes character completely, becoming a blown-out thrash explosion with the vocals almost entirely buried amid staticky guitars and distorted drums. Then it changes again, going atmospheric and Goth before barreling down the highway to black metal land. Ultimately, Nightmare Traversal is the kind of metal record that only seems simplistic; its depths are almost immediately obvious, but reward repeated dives.

Phil Freeman

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