Blasphemous, Vile and Now Supreme
CoC chats with Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy
by: Paul Schwarz
There was a point when people said that death metal had met with its own 'death'. Two things were supposed to prove this: 1) The trend had become oversaturated and was destined to implode and disappear; 2) In a very Spinal Tap-ish way people felt justified in posing the question "Where can you go from there? Where?" and came up with the answer "nowhere, exactly" in terms of extremity. The old death bands could change but they couldn't maintain or intensify their sound. Well, if any 'amp-that-goes-up-to-eleven' example need be given there is probably none better (nor viler) than that of Canada's Cryptopsy, who have not only consistently come out with new and original ideas but have also consistently refined their, at first, 'hyperblast grindcore' sound to make it more intense, faster and more 'annoying'. With their new album out by the end of summer, guitarist Jon Levasseur gave me the lowdown on the new material as well as various other blasphemous lumps of flesh. Here is what transpired.

CoC: How's everything going?

Jon Levasseur: Everything is going fine; we're just concentrating on the new album. We still have a month before we go into the studio, so we're just practising and practising and practising some more. That's all we're doing.

CoC: How's it going, how are the practises?

JL: It's going fine. It's always like that. Before we go into the studio the jams get more and more intense and now we're up to the point where we're filtering for all the little details, minor things that we wanna make sure are perfect on the album. That's what we're doing, we're just practising, trying to speed them up, also, a bit. Flo [Mounier, drums] is trying to go a bit faster, but it's not like blade raging faster; because how much faster can you get? He's aiming for a bit faster and, at the speed were going, there is a lot more unexpected stuff in the songs. We're trying to be different once again. We experimented a lot. Two or three songs on the album are kind of experimental and then maybe two more are pretty basic, well basic: it's more like _None So Vile_. A bit similar.

CoC: Basic on your terms.

JL: Exactly. Basically the difference between _Blasphemy Made Flesh_ and _None So Vile_ will be the same difference [as] between _None So Vile_ and this next album.

CoC: That's what it says in the _Blasphemy Made Flesh_ re-release booklet.

JL: We just reached an understanding with Displeased, because they were printing the CD illegally, but it wasn't really their fault. Our previous label, Invasion Records, sold the stuff to Displeased by lying, saying the rights were theirs when that wasn't true, but it's cool because Displeased is compensating for all the royalties. We're very happy about that, now the problem is that we're having trouble getting _None So Vile_ CDs, because we distribute them ourselves, the best we can, in North America and for _NSV_ we're exclusive in Canada: we supply all the HMVs.

CoC: Don't Wrong Again have any?

JL: Well, the thing is that Wrong Again split a while ago. Wes started another label, WAR music, and Pear started Regain. The contract with Wrong Again records is finished, but now it's not clear who will get the stuff back and who will print the CDs.

CoC: Do you guys write a lot of songs and then a lot of them get thrown out, or do you get a certain amount of songs down and then work on those songs?

JL: Well, it really depends. We don't write a whole bunch of songs and then take the ones we like, 'cause we want each song to be very distinct, very apart from all the others. Even though there are a few songs that, maybe, sound like a -bit- like a song on _None So Vile_. It's gonna be different. Each song is different. We're slow writers, we take two years per album and the reason is simple: we don't want to write two songs within two months [of each other] because the chances are that those two songs will resemble each other a bit, they will be going in the same direction, while if you wait another three months [that's better]. We write one song per two, or three or even four months just because; we get a song finished, we give ourselves time to listen to more music, because we don't just listen to death metal -- we listen to all kinds of stuff, and we just search for a few months for ideas, for new stuff, for things no one never heard in death metal. The main songwriters are me and Flo; for _None So Vile_ that was very true, I wrote like 85% of the guitar and Flo would obviously help me out structuring and everything and the other 15% came form our ex-guitarist Steve [Thibault], but now with our new guitarist Miguel [Roy] and Eric [Langlois, bass], well, Eric was on _NSV_, but for the next album coming out he had a lot more input just because he got used to our way of writing. It's just like me, when I got in Cryptopsy for _Blasphemy Made Flesh_ I was really influenced [by] Malevolent Creation and Suffocation, so obviously I would come in and try to imitate them, but they [the band] slapped me back to reality and said "Look, buddy, this is not Suffocation, this is not Malevolent Creation, this is Cryptopsy; you have to blend in with what Cryptopsy wants to hear" and it took me a while to adapt. I adapted for _NSV_ and Eric is adapting now. What's really cool is that Miguel adapted very quick. He doesn't write major parts of the songs but he has some really weird ideas which go really well with what the band always wanted to be. It's a long process. There was one song we started to write for the third album which we totally scrapped, 'cause the song was going nowhere. Basically that's pretty much how it works: when we have good ideas we stick to them, try to evolve with them; if we have the feeling we're not going anywhere [with a song], we scratch it but usually when we start dishing out ideas and putting riffs together [in the studio] we keep everything. For each five riffs that I'll write at home we'll maybe take two of those -- which is good, 'cause we don't wanna sound like anything else. When we write songs, we think [about] what people will expect and then do something else, we like playing with peoples' minds so people can listen and be totally surprised. When you listen to an album you want something that's different and that'll please your ear.

CoC: What record company are you with now?

JL: I am not supposed to tell you, but everybody knows, so if I just say 'C' and 'M'...

CoC: Germany?

JL: US, but it's Century Media anyway. They're also supposed to be opening up offices in Japan and Australia, which is -very- interesting. The real contract isn't signed yet, but we sign ahead of agreement -- that's a brief contract and everything in there was -very- -very- acceptable. If we get the actual contract and everything meets what the ahead of agreement said, we'll sign with them. The way we see it, Century Media is looking for a band that wants to work their ass off. Cryptopsy has always worked on its own to get their name in the underground; Invasion did a bit but not very much, Wrong Again records did a fairly good job -- well, a good job getting the name out there --, we were very pleased. But we still booked our own shows, toured, and did other merchandise than our CD, sold through mail-order and stuff like that. Labels these days are really looking for a band that wants to work, that wants to go on tour, not a band that'll just want to do albums, not tour, sit at home and drink beer all day. They told us, they said "If you guys want to work seriously, we're gonna get Cryptopsy somewhere." That's what I have been doing from day one, I do all the merchandise, mailing and everything, and it's for a good reason: I know that Cryptopsy has the potential, and what I find cool is that finally major labels are admitting the fact that perhaps we could have been signed two albums ago. But you know, back then death metal was shaky, nobody wanted to risk to take a band but we said "Fuck it, we'll just do what we believe in, we'll do what we wanna do," and gladly we see the results of it.

CoC: When do you expect the new album to be out?

JL: We're gonna be in the studio this April and mid-summer, I guess, will be the release, although I hope for mid-July; but we'll have to see, with delays and everything.

CoC: Do you have a track run-down for it so far?

JL: Well, the album title is not decided for sure yet but it will very probably be called _Whisper Supremacy_. We didn't want a title which was typically death metal, like _None So Vile_; what we liked about _NSV_ was that it was three small words but it meant everything. We don't want a really long, complicated title.

CoC: Like Suffocation?

JL: Well, for them that's great, but it doesn't suit us. Cryptopsy is pretty sick of the Satanism. We're not religious but we don't believe in Satan either, because realistically if you believe in God, you believe in Satan and if you believe in Satan, you believe in God. We're sick of that whole image thing of blood and bones and guts and flesh all over the place.

CoC: The black metal trend?

JL: Well no, even a lot of brutal death metal bands have that image. We don't relate to that, basically we're all musicians who love music, as much death metal as any other type of music and we just do music because we like it and I think it shows on _NSV_ and will show even more on the third album. We just try to bring the music style that one step further because we feel, maybe two or three years ago, the same music was getting remixed and remixed and was pretty much the same. Nothing was really evolving and that's really what we're trying to do, even though sometimes we have ideas which are not death metal at all. On _NSV_, the riff for "Lichmistress" is a blues riff, but once you put distortion to it and a proper beat, it sounds brutal. But the successions of notes are a blues scale. We like to experiment.

CoC: Who's writing the lyrics for the new album? [Lord Worm, ex-vocalist, used to write the lyrics -- Paul]

JL: Lord Worm wrote 2 songs on the new album: "White Worm" and "Cold Hate and Warm Blood". The six other ones are written by our new vocalist Mike DiSalvo.

CoC: Has this altered the direction of the lyrics?

JL: Yes, Lord Worm was passioned [inspired? -- Paul] by real fucked up people: serial killers, serial rapists. That's what he wrote about and it's not that he's all for that; it's just that he tried to explain the mental and physical procedures of a sick person like that. What he would go through before doing that, because he studied in Psychology in University. Lord Worm, a lot of people find him a fucked up person, but he's an intelligent man. He's really well educated, he knows what he's talking about. Mike's vocals [lyrics? -- Paul] are not really political but more personal, more emotional, some feelings that everyone can feel, not just those serial rapists and murders. Some downs and lows that anyone can live, depression and stuff like that, how dangerous depression can be and what it can bring you to do. What somebody who is really depressed might do, he doesn't want to kill himself but he will kill his wife and two kids before he kills himself. His voice alone is more powerful than Lord Worm's. It's really in your face and he takes a lot of room on stage he moves a lot. We've done ten or fifteen shows with him including the Milwaukee Metalfest and I think my feet are still sore from him stepping on them. He moves all over the place, you gotta watch out for him.

CoC: On _None So Vile_ there was a classical art influence on the packaging [the cover is Herodias with the head John the Baptist by Elizabeth Sirani -- Paul]; who had that idea?

JL: The one who came up with the idea for the cover picture was Flo, because he's really good with art; he studied in communications and marketing and stuff like that, and he came up with that and we looked at that and it all clicked right away. The cover is so brutal because when you think of what really happened to John the Baptist, it's so brutal -- how he died and for what he died. He died for a dance, the daughter danced and then he got his head chopped off, that's vile, it's "none so vile", because nobody these days would do a dance for somebody's head. Even though there is no blood and guts on the cover, it's classy, it looks good, but it's still very brutal. That's how we like to think of ourselves: we're really brutal but we try to do it in a good way, with good taste and originality. That cover took a lot of people by surprise.

CoC: I think that album also looks a lot better. All the Cannibal Corpse albums are really sick, but -I- prefer covers like Morbid Angel's _Blessed Are the Sick_ -- it's an amazing picture. It can be better to have a 'real' picture than gore art.

JL: Something that doesn't suggest blood, guts and everything because we're personally sick of that. Cannibal Corpse, :at the time:, when they brought out _Butchered at Birth_, people were pretty surprised and said '-this- is a brutal cover.' Everyone stole that idea and re-did it. Since we try musically to be distinct from everyone else, sometimes because of the speed, sometimes because of how well try to make a riff sound totally weird and -annoying-, because to be honest there are a few parts on the new album which people will find -annoying-. It's really annoying, it's Cryptopsy, don't get me wrong, but God is it annoying. It sounds circular. It's not nice and classical, it's annoying but it's different.

CoC: I think it's where bands should go now and are going.

[I chat briefly to Jon about the new Morbid Angel album, which he hasn't got yet, and point out that it ends with a strange electronic sounding track which Jon sees nothing wrong with but points out]

JL: We'll have a few samples and stuff but we really try to keep it natural, because Cryptopsy wants to be as natural as possible: the bass, two guitars, the drums. If you look at _None So Vile_, there's a lot of stuff we could have put in, for instance I could have put a lot more harmony in my solos. But, our motto is, if we can't do it live, we won't do it on album, because we want to let people know we're natural -- what you hear on the album is what you hear live. There will definitely be a few samples here and there but, with our instruments, we really tried to go beyond -- getting some strange ideas, and with Miguel, our new guitarist, he had some strange ideas which was very cool. I can't wait till people actually hear it, I hope they like it. We were scared for _NSV_, we thought it would be too much. At first we did not have that good a response. People were expecting something like _Blasphemy Made Flesh_, but if we'd done that people would have loved it -- the two first weeks, but after they would have said it's the same thing. You have to, in some way, give what people want to hear, but we're trying to give it in another way. We're trying to be as brutal and even more if we can. I think it will be more, it depends on how people see the concept of the songs. When _NSV_ came out, people didn't like it right away. Four months after _NSV_'s release everyone liked it, but the two first months people weren't sure because it didn't sound like _BMF_. That's okay, 'cause we expect that for the third album as well.

CoC: Do you have any touring plans?

JL: We're supposed to go on tour in the US with Dying Fetus this summer. For Europe, the plan with Century Media is that we'll do one tour in '98: North America; and we really, really hope to go to Europe before the end of '98. It's still possible but, worst case scenario, Century Media is really looking forward to making us tour again in 1999: the US and Europe, -finally-. For _BMF_, Europe was a lot better [than the US] and then for _NSV_ it was the contrary. I know that in Europe people are dying to see us. I can't wait to go to Europe, I've never been. We can't wait to go to Europe, period; we can't wait to play there 'cause we know that people want to see us.

CoC: Do you place more emphasis on the live performances [of your songs]? Which are more definitive for you?

JL: The emphasis is the same. First of all, especially, our third album and _None So Vile_ was pretty demanding for us. We have to be as ready for a show and the feeling is the same as the studio as we get closer to the tour. We know that on tour we'll have a great time and we have to have the songs as good as in a studio. In a studio there is even more concentration because of all the little details in the new songs. The new songs don't stop, they're like a speeding train which is going to smack you in the face and run over you and won't stop until the last wagon goes by. There are a few pauses, but it's really in your face. The feeling that we get before going into the studio and before playing live is pretty much the same. I know that some bands record an album, stop jamming for a month or two and just live on the road. I don't know how they can do that because, maybe it's us being Cryptopsy, but, I swear to you that after two weeks, if we were to come in and jam, it wouldn't be as good. We practice four times a week steady, all year round and it has been like that for four years and it's so demanding that we can't afford to take a break before going on tour. The longest break we'll take is when we come back from a tour, maybe a week off. We value our studio -and- live performances a lot. Flo is the master of the live performance. If Flo is in a good shape that night and he says "OK guys, I'm gonna play faster tonight," well, we don't have a choice but follow him. He did that in Milwaukee, he said "OK guys, I'm pumped for this show, watch out" and often we'll play even faster live.

CoC: Have you been happy with your previous releases?

JL: Yeah, we were really satisfied. _Blasphemy Made Flesh_ pretty much said to the world 'this is what Cryptopsy is gonna be doing' but we promised then, in doing that, that we were gonna try to evolve as much as we could and that's what we did. _BMF_ had a very good response. We were able to tour Canada entirely off that album and people were very supportive. The only misfortune was that we signed with Invasion records and they screwed us big time with the money and everything, but at the time we didn't really mind because at least _BMF_ was printed on CDs and people could [get to] know the songs. At that time we knew that we were far from making money and we're still far from making money.

CoC: Bands always make this point. Entombed had to work between Wolverine Blues and this new record and people think bands don't have to do that sort of thing.

JL: We toured a bit with Morbid Angel, we know that those guys don't work. Well, maybe now.

CoC: No, I don't think they do, 'cause they're the only death metal band who've retained their appeal. They still get featured in the mainstream metal press. They were very lucky to get that level of success [and I don't mean they were -just- lucky, I think MA are also one of the best and most hardworking bands in death metal -- Paul].

JL: Morbid Angel stayed true throughout.

CoC: Absolutely.

JL: They said: "we're brutal and were going to stay brutal -- until the death of Morbid Angel." That's what they have been doing and that's admirable.

CoC: They don't have to work, but Pete and Trey practise every day. It's exactly the same as what you were saying: it seems the bands that work -are- the bands who find success [bandwagon jumpers, but that doesn't apply here -- Paul].

JL: We try not to be lazy. Say we get a bit of money, often bands take their profit and have a huge party, but if you do that you lose the chance to invest that money in more. We're not expecting to make any money, the only thing we expect is that when we go on tour we have a decent life. We all work. Then again, we said to ourselves that in reality Cryptopsy was what we wanted it to be, Cryptopsy is a trip. The way we saw it was that if we're gonna play this style of music we're gonna play it to the metal, to the god damn extreme and that's how we think and like to think of ourselves and how we work on songs. I think it shows in the songs that we like music; we really like to bring out everything that has been made or even new stuff in our music, even though it's not [necessarily] death metal. We do this for fun, it's obvious when we play live and in the studio, when we have to work on the details and make this album perfect we want to, we really want to: fast, intense, tight and everything.

CoC: What music originally influenced you personally and the band as a whole?

JL: Well, in '92 we were all huge death metal fans: Napalm Death, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, old Entombed, Dismember, everything that was brutal, Malevolent Creation. For me, personally, the two best death metal albums that have ever been made are _Effigy of the Forgotten_ from Suffocation and Malevolent Creation's _Retribution_.

CoC: The technicality of _Effigy of the Forgotten_ is crazy.

JL: Oh yeah! For the time in '92 when I heard 'dun dun dun dun tata-tata-tata-tata' I thought 'jeez what the hell is this!' Suffocation made a huge impact and to say that Suffocation had no impact on Cryptopsy would be lying. I don't think any young death metal band; ourselves, Internal Bleeding, Dying Fetus, Autumn Leaves can say that _EotF_ had no influence on their music, I don't believe that. Other than that, I'll listen to some Alsylyola 'cause I love great guitar playing -- my favourite guitarist is Yngwie Malmsteen. I listen to Dream Theatre, I worship them. Those guys are gods. Primus. Sometimes Cradle of Filth, sometimes Kenny G, I like everything that's really technical, regardless of the instrument. But I don't like commercial music. Eric listens to some Primus, to Pastorius; the bassist that died a while ago, he was a fucking amazing bassist. And Miguel, our new guitarist, he's still more into really brutal death metal, but he will listen to other types of music which are really annoying, which makes him bring in a lot of interesting ideas for the new songs. Mike likes brutal stuff, he likes stuff like, well we all like... what's their name, they're huge...

[It takes a whole minute before I say]

CoC: Dead Can Dance?

JL: Dead Can Dance!!! Yeah, we worship them. Those guys are gods. Musically; they take every music style that has ever existed and just incorporate it perfectly. If you like music, you have to like Dead Can Dance and if you don't you have to at least appreciate the fact that these guys know how to get some very interesting music out there. Mike listens to a lot of hardcore and brutal music. Flo has a huge bagload of music from Led Zeppelin, to Bjork, to Jeff Buckley, to brutal music, to Primus, to Dream Theatre, to Dennis Chambers, to Dave Weckles, whatever he likes. We like what we like; if it's not death metal it doesn't mean we won't like it. In any style not all the albums are good, but the ones that are good we appreciate. I love Dream Theatre, they have the talent to put really aggressive stuff with technical stuff that you wouldn't believe and that I wouldn't even try playing. It's the hardest question to answer because there are just so many bands that we listen to, but, in death metal, everything that was brutal, we loved; and The Gathering.

CoC: Any other mediums that have influenced you? Film, books, etc.?

JL: Lord Worm, yes, by horror movies and the writings of Clive Barker; but the rest of us, not really. Our whole lives evolved around music and, until I die, music will be the main thing in my life. It's funny, we all had the same history of listening to music from the day we were born until now, we're all four the same. Mike is like that. Lord Worm explored a lot of other artistic things like movies and books.

CoC: What's the scene like in Canada?

JL: The scene, as touring goes, is a lot healthier than people think. We toured Canada twice and both times were worthwhile. Band-wise it's incredible. There's us, Oblivion, Gorguts -- who are going to dish out a new album that's so twisted you will not believe, I can't wait until the album comes out --, Kataklysm, Obscene Crisis, Cro-Vadis, Demount. These bands all kick ass. In Ontario, you have this very sarcastically named band called Summertime Daisies, and it's brutal death. In Saskatchewan, Pericardium, who are very brutal and experimental... Musically, being a very proud Canadian, I am very flattered. That we got our asses kicked in ice hockey, that I have not stomached yet. I nearly cried when we lost. Because the religion in Canada is ice hockey, fuck God, it's ice hockey.

CoC: I think in Europe it's the former Soviet block countries which are producing the greatest volume of good, brutal music. Bands like Vader.

JL: Poland is a godly country for the underground. Our ultimate dream would be to tour Europe opening up for Vader. It would be unreal. We have the highest respect for those guys, 'cause, like us, they have stayed brutal but on each album there is something new to listen to and you never get sick of it.

[I mention Vader's touring slot with Morbid Angel]

JL: We did some shows with them when they were in Canada. To our surprise, Morbid Angel were the coolest guys, as are Suffocation. We weren't sure we'd make it home -- we partied so hard... When a band is as big as Morbid Angel, you say to yourself "we won't bother them," but no, Pete and Dave came right up to us and they were really great guys.

CoC: Some bands just get reputations. With Deicide everyone thinks they're fucked up and apparently that's untrue.

JL: We've never actually spoken to Deicide and I'll admit to you I have also heard that they have this rockstar attitude. I heard the same thing about Morbid Angel and that was completely wrong, 'cause they were super-cool with us. When you get that big, people start rumours. One thing that we have to admit about Deicide, though, is that they never altered their ideas, they always stuck to what they wanted to do. I read an interview with Glen recently and he said "Well, we're Deicide, we started off doing this music and we'll continue doing this music, and anyone who expects to have classical guitar or some chick singing on our next record, well, they can listen to someone else." Personally, with the chick thing, I don't really find that brutal, we won't do it. But then again we'll have some classical guitar on this next album. I can't tell you too much 'cause it will take out the punch.

CoC: Is the album longer than usual?

JL: It's a tad longer than _None So Vile_... a few minutes.

CoC: You had two samples, one at the beginning and one at the end, of _NSV_...

JL: Lord Worm came up with the first one. Flo came up with the last one and to us it's more funny than sarcastic and when you first listen to the album you don't really expect it. People who heard that for the first time were dying with laughter. We're gonna have something on the end of the new album which will be even more funny, but I -can't- say.

CoC: Don't tell me, I want the surprise.

JL: You're gonna laugh, especially if you know where it comes from.

CoC: Anything more you wanna say to the readers of CoC?

JL: Well, we hope, the next album will rocket us through the world, because we're hungry to play the rest of the world. We really want to get out there and play for all the people who have supported us since 1993, it's been a while and we have had constant support. We really hope this next album will be something different and that people will like it, 'cause we do. I hope we'll be able to play for every Cryptopsy fan in the world soon. I know that a lot of people have been waiting for us and I just want to say keep it sick, keep the underground alive and Cryptopsy are doing their best so this underground has something new. We, and many other bands, are trying to make this underground as strong as it was before, even though it will be hard. The new album will be brutal but still different and maybe the first listen will be pretty hard and people won't really realise what's happening. With the underground, you have to surprise people to keep them interested and we're not the only ones doing that.

(article submitted 13/4/1998)


CHATS
1/30/2009 J Smit Cryptopsy: A Venom Well Designed
3/15/2006 J Smit Cryptopsy: Back to the Worms
9/21/2003 J Smit Cryptopsy: Breaking the Barriers of Supremacy
1/10/2001 P Schwarz Cryptopsy: The Shifting Scales of Brutality
ALBUMS
4/27/2008 J Smit 8.5 Cryptopsy - The Unspoken King
10/10/2005 P Azevedo 8.5 Cryptopsy - Once Was Not
5/11/2003 P Azevedo 9.5 Cryptopsy - None So Live
1/10/2001 A Cantwell 8.5 Cryptopsy - And Then You'll Beg
10/1/1998 P Schwarz 10 Cryptopsy - Whisper Supremacy
10/11/1996 A Gaudrault 10 Cryptopsy - None So Vile
GIGS
6/11/2008 P Schwarz Cryptopsy "I Don't Give a Fuck If You Hate Me"
1/10/2001 A Wasylyk Cryptopsy / Solus / Rotting / Horde of Worms Canadian Carnage
8/12/1999 D Rocher Six Feet Under / Mayhem / Vader / Enslaved / Cryptopsy / Nile / Thyrfing / Darkseid Facing the Breton Storm Season
8/12/1999 M Noll Six Feet Under / Vader / Enslaved / Cryptopsy / Nile / Thyrfing Pig's Feet and All Things Yummy
10/1/1998 P Schwarz Death Across America / Gorguts / Oppressor / Cryptopsy / Days of Mourning / Endless Obscure and Violent Canadian Supremacy
10/11/1996 A Gaudrault Cryptopsy / Blood of Christ High Quality Metal, Low Quality Fans
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