For fans of old school thrash, the guys from Cryptosis will be familiar as Distillator. After knocking out two killer thrash albums, the band found themselves yearning to play something more progressive, and such was the shift in sound they decided to bury Distillator entirely and “start over” as Cryptosis.
Now with their first album Bionic Swarm due out April 26th on Century Media Records, the band is gearing up for a live stream tomorrow (at the time of writing) that promises to be a barn burner!
We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Laurens Houvast to get the lowdown on the move away from Distillator, the new record, and how the band’s sound is formed from a bass pedal!
Many people will be familiar with you guys from the Distillator days – why did you guys decide to drop the Distillator name entirely and “start over” as Cryptosis? Can you see yourselves playing Distillator songs live, or is it a clean break?
We established Distillator early 2013 with the purpose of playing pure old-school thrash metal in the vein of bands like Slayer, Destruction and Sodom. In the early years following our founding, we held on to that thought and recorded “Revolutionary Cells” and “Summoning the Malicious”.
We did some excessive touring with bands like Metal Church, Vektor, Pestilence, Angelus Apatrida and played direct support shows for Anthrax, Testament, Gojira, WASP and many more.
During this period and the years following, we developed our own musical preferences. We discovered new bands, new genres and grew as musicians playing our instruments. With the introduction of the mellotron our sound got an extra dimension. This opened a lot of doors that were closed before regarding songwriting.
At that moment, I guess somewhere mid 2018, we kind of realized that we wanted to play much more than just pure old-school thrash metal. We wanted to experiment and write songs that were not bound to a specific genre. At this point, we also realized that “Distillator” (including the logo) has pure old-school thrash metal dripping off it at all sides.
When we were writing the 3rd Distillator album, which later became the debut for Cryptosis, we just wrote what came to mind. It didn’t specifically have to be thrash or extremely fast music at all. We recorded a lot of ideas as demos. Put it in a large library and started working on the songs from there. Songs like “Prospect of Immortality” and “Mindscape” are both good examples in which you can hear us experimenting with sound. There is still a fair bit of thrash metal on the album, but also we added influences of death-, atmospheric-, black- and prog metal.
From our own perspective and looking forward towards the future, we thought it would be more logical to change the name. Since we wrote a concept album that is lyrically not your typical Thrash Metal album and also gives us more room to expand in the future songwriting wise.
We will not play any Distillator songs live. This is a clean break.
Can you tell me about the concept behind Bionic Swarm?
Bionic Swarm is a concept album consisting of eight dystopian stories that take place in the year 2149. Each track is a personal narrative of certain progress or technological advancements seen through the eyes of its inhabitants, both human and non-human.
The concepts on the album tell stories about the dark side of technology. How these technologies will be used in the future, if they are ever invented, is yet to be seen. Our debut album is a concept album containing various stories that take place in the year 2149. The concepts are sci-fi/fantasy based, but with a realistic touch. If 130 years ago, you would have told people we would all have a super computer in our pockets with us every day, they would not have believed you. Our stories take place 130 years into the future, practically anything can happen. The sky is the limit. That’s why we think it’s so interesting to write about these topics. Bionic augmentations? We are already doing that nowadays, but in 2149 this will sure be at a much higher and sophisticated level. So we want the listener to think and fantasize about the future too. We’re giving them the mindset, the imagination is theirs.
Bionic Swarm is your first record for Century Media – how did you hook up with them? How has the experience been so far?
After we finished recording this album, we gave a copy to our manager Roman Hödl. It was March 2020, the beginning of the pandemic crisis. We imagined no label in their right mind was going to sign and invest in a band at this time.
Surprisingly, a few weeks later we got word that Century Media Records was interested in talking a deal. Nobody in the band was ever signed to a major label before, so we were really stoked about this.
Immediately after we got the contract, we were talking about stuff that we wanted to do for a long time, but never had the financial means to do so. Our first single “Decypher” has a video which is the perfect example. We always wanted to do a video clip with epic 3D animations.
Century Media gave us extra confidence in uncertain times by signing the band.
Were you guys at all slow to put out a record right now that you can’t immediately tour behind?
The whole Covid situation threw some dirt in our European touring plans with Vektor in May/June 2021. Like I mentioned above, we already had the album ready since March 2020 and planned it as late as possible. I think everybody didn’t think we would still be in the Covid situation over a year later. Our tour with Vektor will happen in 2022 and it being rescheduled as we speak.
How did the band deal with the lockdowns in 2020? Did you guys end up spending more time on the record than you might otherwise have?
The record was finished before the start of the pandemic. We often get the question if the pandemic inspired us to write this concept album, but that just isn’t the case. For the songwriting and recording of Bionic Swarm, we scheduled the most time and budget that we ever did for any album in the past of Distillator. We wanted to work as hard as possible to gain the most out of it. I think it worked out better than we ever expected!
So guitars! What did you guys use on the new record in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?
For guitar we used an ESP LTD Explorer EX-400. It’s a guitar I bought 14 years ago and am still playing as my main guitar. The guitars were powered by 2 ENGL amps. It was a Richie Blackmore signature 100W in combination with a 60W Fireball.
Because we play as a 3-piece, it’s hard to get a brutal and broad sound live so we decided to go for a stereo setup for both guitar and bass (more about bass below).
The blackmore amp is the main amp which is supported by the fireball. We finetuned both amps to get a wide range of frequencies covered.
For the album recordings, we used a tube screamer through a splitter through both amps into 2 cabinets. We then used 4 carefully placed microphones to record the guitar sound. For guitar solos, we used a custom delay/reverb pedal based on a deep blue delay.
The bass plays stereo through an Orange OB1-500 + Orange OBC810 8x10 cabinet for the bass sound and a custom amp (based on a marshall plexi) for the mellotron. The mellotron is an effect pedal made by Electro Harmonix, called Mel9. It’s the sound that gives Cryptosis such a symphonic sound. Its capabilities basically changed the band’s course and direction. All the bass parts were played using a Rickenbacker 4003.
Did you have any reference records going into the studio in terms of how you wanted the finished product to sound?
We listen to a lot of different genres inside and outside of metal, so there is a lot of good sounding music to take as a reference. However, we are a metal band and our goal was to achieve a brutal and large sounding record.
We listened to a lot of different albums to pick one as a reference. It was a hard task, but we were all very content with Dimmu Borgir’s latest album called “Eonian”. This is also why we contact Tony Lindgren at Fascination Street Studios for the mastering of the album. He mastered the Dimmu Borgir record and a lot of other amazing albums like the latest Wardruna and Sepultura for example.
Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?
That would be the mellotron pedal. It’s what gives us our characteristic sound and generally distinguishes us from other bands in the genre.
Are you a gear head at all? Any pieces of gear you’ve played recently that were a pleasant surprise? Anything you got to play that was disappointing?
We are no gearheads at all. Our main focus is writing music and playing shows. We invested a lot of our time and money in getting the gear we need to make that happen.
A lot of guitarists are embracing modelling and profiling amps these days, especially due to making fly in gigs much easier. What’s your take on digital amps and effects?
It’s a very useful method to have the exact same sound on every stage around the world. However, tube amps have a lot more body. If I go to a show and a band plays with a Kemper profiler amp, I always miss some kind of crushy, body that pushes in your ear, especially at festivals. I hope the technique will get better in the future, then I will definitely start looking to get me some of that.
For someone who’s just discovering your band and wants to hear more music that sounds like you, where would you suggest they start?
Each band member has its own playlist on our Spotify page. If you are interested in our influences and the music we listen to, check out these lists and I’m sure there is something in there that is to your satisfaction.
If someone maybe wasn’t familiar with you guys but wanted to learn to play one of your songs, where would you suggest they start? Any riffs/licks/passages in particular that are fun to play, or maybe challenging but rewarding for more advanced players?
Everyone in the band really pushed their capabilities to the maximum. In each song there are definitely some challenges. Sometimes it’s speed, sometimes technique. I would say that Game of Souls would be the most interesting song to play for a guitar player. It’s very diverse, progressive and full of guitar solos and bridges.
You guys are an incredibly fast band – do you have any tips for people who are trying to up the tempo of their playing?
Tempo and fast picking isn’t everything. Make sure you got your right hand technique right, before pushing yourself to the limit. For us it took many years of individual practice to get this right. When we started the band, the speed just came naturally.
What’s up next for the band? Any new material in the works? Any post-rona plans?
We are planning a live stream concert on April 24th where we will play our entire album from front to back. It’s going to be a special show which will also include a 15 m2 LED-Wall with a video show.
For the rest of this year, we will start writing new riffs and songs for the 2nd Cryptosis album. Of course we sincerely hope we can start doing shows as soon as possible.