Cryptic Shift/Plague Rider @Trillians, Newcastle, September 8, 2021

If you want to take a health check of the UK death metal scene, just look at Cryptic Shift.

Such was the impact of their 2020 debut album, Visitations from Enceladus, that legendary US label Metal Blade Records snapped them up this year.

With its lofty sci-fi concept, astonishing technicality and near-26 minute opening track, Visitations… certainly wasn’t just any old death metal record – and it found its way into many an end of year list.

What’s more, you have to admire a band who, for their first post-pandemic tour, have the ambition (and sheer ability) to play that album in full across nine dates.

So, for a North East crowd starved of live death metal for more than a year, Cryptic Shift’s long awaited return to Newcastle was a cerebral feast.

First though, that audience was treated to a mind-altering set from Tyneside’s Plague Rider, a band who dance across the fraying edges of grind, noise and DM, and unleash scorched earth psychedelia wherever they land.

Commanding plenty of attention centre stage was vocalist James Watts and his bizarre pedal board/guitar/cello hybrid: think one of Seasick Steve’s contraptions, but made by an ancient astronaut.

Or something like that.

Whatever, it worked.

And Watts’ organic and digital barrage raged across six-song set.

Challenger’s Lecture was a shock and awe statement of contorted rhythms and bass spasms, and Without Organs – one of the quartet’s more accessible pieces – writhed and creeped into every corner of this basement bar, before exploding like Brutal Truth at their most experimental.

Pictured above: Plague Rider’s James Watts

Like Plague Rider, Cryptic Shift delight in exploring extreme music’s outer limits.

Their progressive excursions aren’t built for arenas and moshpits, but are enthralling examples of where DM can go in highly talented, ambitious hands.

Exhibit A is Moonbelt Immolator, a cosmic hydra spitting shards of Atheist and Cynic, yet with more than a hint of Voivod – and even Hawkwind – in its DNA.

Bringing a 20-minute plus song like that to the stage takes grit, skill and professionalism, which Cryptic Shift have in abundance.

Guitarist/vocalist Xander Bradley and fellow axe slinger Joss Farrington (pictured top) took Trillians on a dimension hopping thrill ride, drummer Ryan Sheperson bounced effortlessly between each percussive twist and bassist John Riley evoked DM greats Tony Choy and Steve DiGiorgio with every run across his frets.

If it was exhausting, it didn’t show.

Yet for all their proggy leanings, the four-piece pump put those eviscerating death riffs with the best of them: (Petrified in the) Hypogean Gaol and Arctic Chasm boast some particularly fine examples, and tilted this set into harder territory at times.

Cryptic Shift reach for the stars

Watch Cryptic Shift up close, locked in sync and scorching the air with sonic lightning, and it’s easy to see why they’re one of the UK’s hottest death metal prospects.

And why Metal Blade took a chance on the Leeds lads.

They are something special.

If they keep this up, very little will hold them back.

Cryptic Shift