Death metal has, over time, become a uniquely divided sect of the greater heavy metal catalogue. To ask metal fans on each side of the Atlantic what "death metal" should sound like would elicit two wildly different answers. Overseas, death metal is a genre characterized by high-frequency screaming and a veritable avalanche of non-stop guitar. Meanwhile back at the ranch, American death metal is partially infused with the facets of modern hardcore, to produce a sound that shares a relationship with its European cousin, but is marked with guttural growls and heavy-handed distortion.
Since this evolution separated the genre in twain, it has become increasingly difficult to imagine a singular artist that successfully can walk in both worlds. Cryogen is a member of a slowly emerging new cadre of American-based death metallers who are willing to try.
Denver's resident death metal superstars do not lack for talent or confidence. The band's remastered re-release for Dark Millennium Records, "Psalms of Deceit" is a flashy, variable and at times sublimely enjoyable affair. The band rips through their tunes with aplomb, secure in the notion that very few of their American contemporaries are attempting to fill the space that Cryogen exists in.
The band brings their “A”-game for periods of “This Nightmare,” as the track is both fantastically riff-centric and rewardingly rhythmic, if you can separate the noise from the base. The guitar tone and stuttered cadence of the central burst reminds subtly of As They Sleep’s “Dynasty” from a couple years back. This and the new bonus track “Cell” are where Cryogen shows flashes of brilliance, and I do mean brilliance, as they couch the familiar within the harsh to great effect.
The complication here is that despite all that death metal's two families have in common, trying to pull both into a cohesive mix results in a surprisingly untenable balance. "Psalms of Deceit" is rife with creative, fast and even artistic soloing, coupled with substantive and generally well-practiced guitar work. The album is also driven by a brooding presence and omnipresent, pummeling percussion. Yet somehow, the figurative oil and water don't coalesce. In trying to be all things to all people, Cryogen has produced a technically sound record that doesn't quite live up to the taste test. "Psalms of Deceit" is filled with quality ingredients, so it stands to reason that the only facet that finds the band lacking is creativity, which comes as a surprise since Cryogen has taken on the unforgiving task of trying to unite the halves of death metal's Sword of Grayskull.
Album opener “Faith and Suicide” is the best illustration of the success and shortcoming of “Psalms of Deceit.” The song is an up-tempo crusher with a wonderfully crafted bridge, but the pieces don’t fit together in “insert tab A into slot B” fashion as one would hope. None of the pieces are remarkably deficient; they just don’t quite belong in the same place, particularly when spaced out by the down-beat driven, open-spaced sections between. Similarly, the back half of “Omega” is a measured slice of heavy metal genius, but the front half lacks the intended punch, being more generic and drowned in double-kicking.
”Psalms of Deceit” is a difficult album to judge, because it displays both artistry and the bravery to take on a Herculean task, yet doesn’t hit the notes it could have. Cryogen is a talented band who has yet to truly find their groove. They can and have used groove to their advantage in several of their songs, conjuring promising moments of death metal synthesis, but using groove and having a groove are not the same thing. There are head-nodding moments of impressive music on "Psalms of Deceit," but it's not a well-woven mesh just yet. Listen to the album to hear a sound that could be, but isn't quite.