Leeds ‘astrodeath’ crew Cryptic Shift have finally emerged from the pandemic’s temporal wormhole – and they’re now making up for lost time, by taking 2020’s visionary debut, Visitations From Enceladus, on the road.
With the band set to play a hometown show at Damnation Festival this weekend, Rich Holmes caught up with vocalist/guitarist Xander Bradley to talk Alien architecture, air guitars… and Captain Beefheart.
Rushonrock: Visitations From Enceladus was released in May 2020, but you’ve only been playing it live since September. What has the response been to the album?
Xander Bradley: It’s been very cool. Back in 2018 we used to play a couple songs from Visitations before anyone knew about it. But now that it’s out it’s really cool, as people are turning up and they like the songs. On stage you can see them headbanging and looking forward to their favourite riffs coming up, and then air guitaring along!
Rushonrock: How do you get ‘in shape’ to play a 25-minute-long, immensely complex song such as Moonbelt Immolator live?
Xander Bradley: The most important thing is the transitions. For example, seven minutes in to Moonbelt Immolator there is the end of the thrashier section and then it vibes out into the clean section, so it’s about getting that transition really smooth.
Rushonrock: You signed with Metal Blade in July. How did that record deal come about?
Xander Bradley: They got in touch early on this year and said they really liked our stuff. They really liked Visitations and the old school feel of it. We have a prominent bass, so a lot of people mention Atheist and bands like that.
We obviously love the stuff on Metal Blade like Cannibal Corpse, Revocation and Job For A Cowboy. It’s awesome to be working with them now.
Rushonrock: What impact did the Coronavirus pandemic have on the band? Did it slow your momentum?
Xander Bradley: I kind of feel like it worked in our favour. The record came out on May 4 last year and that was only a month or two into the pandemic, so everyone was kind of stuck at home, listening to music. I think that really helped push it out there. A lot of people had the time for the album: it helped people discover it.
Rushonrock: Your music is very progressive – does Cryptic Shift attract fans from outside the death metal scene?
Xander Bradley: Yeah, for sure. I’m not so into the old prog rock stuff, but a lot of people have mentioned that Moonbelt reminds them of stuff like that.
There was someone at the show in Derby who was really into Captain Beefheart – he said we reminded him of him!
Rushonrock: What have been the key evolutionary steps from your early work to what you have achieved with Visitations From Enceladus?
Xander Bradley: The music on Visitations has been in construction since 2014/15. So it was waiting for the right moment that we could portray this music in the right way. We had to build ourselves up to that point.
Beyond The Celestial Realms (Cryptic Shift’s debut EP) came out in 2016 and that was the first serious thing we put out. It’s not on the same level of Visitations, but it set a bar to jump off from.
And the support shows we had in 2016 – we supported Exodus and Voivod, we played with Vektor and Suffocation. Those shows melded us together as a band. They allowed us to really get into that positive, determined mindset.
Rushonrock: What are your plans for the second album?
Xander Bradley: The story of Visitations starts with the Cosmic Dreams single from 2017. The character at the end of that gets split into two forms. One of the forms is the Visitations adventure that he has. The next record is going to be the alternate form that came from Cosmic Dreams and the story is going to run alongside it.
Rushonrock: With bands such as Blood Incantation and yourselves, sci-fi is becoming a more prevalent theme in death metal. Why did you decided to base your lyrical concepts around it?
Xander Bradley: We’re all nerds! We absolutely love Star Wars and we grew up on watching The Phantom Menace and stuff like that. It’s just the coolest thing on the planet: it was a no brainer for us to incorporate sci-fi into it.
It’s really cool that there are lots of bands out there trying the ‘cosmic’ stuff.
Rushonrock: Have your concepts been influenced by any particular sci-fi films or novels?
Xander Bradley: The architecture of Alien, the metal corridors of the Nostromo and LV-426, the blue light and special effects… that’s really influential on imagining the scenarios that our character gets into.
Xander Bradley: The underground death metal scene, especially in America, has been coming up since 2014/15. The UK is six or seven years behind but it’s cool to see bands coming out in the UK and really pushing forward.
Rushonrock: Who do you admire in the current death metal scene?
Xander Bradley: Joss (Farrington, Cryptic Shift guitarist) is in Seprevation and they are probably my favourite UK band.
And there are loads of bands from USA as well, just way too many to count, like the bands on 20 Buck Spin such as Void Ceremony.
I’m friends with Garrett (Johnson) from Void Ceremony and play Dungeons and Dragons with him, he’s really cool!
I really like Atræ Bilis too. They are modern sounding but with that that dissonant, Gorguts vibe.
Rushonrock: How did Josh Farrington come to be playing with you?
Xander Bradley: Joe (Bradley, former Cryptic Shift guitarist) left at the end of 2019: we recorded Visitations with him. We had Josh in mind and we knew him from playing with Sepravation. Josh’s first gig with us was with Cannabis Corpse at The Black Heart. We just did that one-off gig and then he had a month to learn the tracks of Visitations… and then the pandemic happened!
Since then we have been practicing non-stop, five or six days a week, at our rehearsal space in Leeds.
In the last few shows it has been awesome to play it live and we’ve felt that the rehearsals have paid off.
Rushonrock: Looking back at Cryptic Shift’s journey so far, what are you most proud of?
Xander Bradley: It has got to be Visitations. Everything from now on is built off that. Everything we achieve from now is from that. And with the amount of years it has taken to pull together, we’re really proud of it.
I remember before it came out, I just thought, ‘I can’t wait to hold this record in my hands and have it finished and complete’.
Rushonrock: You’re appearing at Damnation Festival in Leeds on November 6. How does it feel to be playing such a respected metal event in your hometown?
Xander Bradley: It’s going to be awesome. We have been going to Damnation for the last few years ourselves so it’s really cool to be on it, especially as it’s our hometown.
It will be the biggest show we have played so far, so we are really looking forward to that!
Visitations From Enceladus by Cryptic Shift is out now on Blood Harvest Records.