The Shifting Scales of Brutality
CoC chats with Jon Levasseur from Cryptopsy
by: Paul Schwarz
Death metal's stalwarts, beware: you may not like the new Cryptopsy album. "Why?", I hear you ask. Well, because Cryptopsy can no longer be labelled a "death metal" band and even roughly summed up. Their fourth offering, _And Then You'll Beg_, is yet more bewilderingly technical than even _Whisper Supremacy_ [CoC #34] was, and though it is quite fully recognisable as Cryptopsy, the album also sheds nearly all the band's debts to the death metal scene that they were spawned from. Jon Levasseur prefers to use the term "extreme metal", and Cryptopsy's musical progression and expansion justifies such a wide classification. Listen to what he has to say, because whether it be about Cryptopsy or the extreme music scene in general, I think Jon has a lot of interesting perspectives and insights to offer.

CoC: How are things in the Cryptopsy camp?

Jon Levasseur: Pretty cool, we're pretty relaxed, pretty happy with everything that happened. The studio time was very cool, we had the time to do everything that we wanted. It was more relaxed this time, no pressure, we had the time that we -wanted-: _Whisper Supremacy_ we jammed everything in like three weeks and this time we had -a month- and three weeks, and that makes a big difference! We're kinda happy 'cause we've already done a couple of the shows, so we're getting used to being on the road again, driving and connecting with the crowds and everything. We did three shows, we played in Wooster, MA, Meriden, Connecticut and New York city in Manhattan, and it was an awesome show, and we played in a place here in Quebec. Our album launch is coming up and it's our next show in Montreal. I wish you could see it, 'cause we're putting everything we've got into it. I can't say what we're putting into it, but it's gonna be the biggest Cryptopsy show ever at The Medley and we're putting everything we've got into it. But we're putting it on film though, so it should be a live video.

CoC: Wicked, that would be cool.

JL: That's why we're doing it with like four cameras and we're gonna edit the whole thing and it should be... I can't say too much here.

CoC: Bug Century Media and put it on DVD!

JL: <laughs>

CoC: That way we can switch the camera angles.

JL: That would be something else, wouldn't it.

CoC: You were saying that it was really relaxed in the studio. You found there wasn't any pressure going into doing the fourth album -- second one for Century Media -- and I assume from what you say there was no pressure from the label to do one thing or another?

JL: Not at all, not at all. 'Cause obviously Century Media signed us for who we are and they knew what we were about. With _Whisper..._ we didn't have any pressure from Century Media but we put ourselves under a lot of pressure, because we had a hard level to overcome after coming out with _None So Vile_ and it getting such great reviews. People were questioning whether we would be able to top _None So Vile_. But what we did was we went into real extremity, a few grooves, really intense, really technical, and it was our first album on Century Media, so those two reasons were really putting us under some pressure. Since we did the album in a short period of time it was pretty rushed, actually. But this time -- Century Media know that we put out an album every two years and a couple of months, so they respect that, and especially since we toured for like a whole year, though not continually. We played Japan. We played twice in the States to start off and then right after that our first show in Europe was Dynamo [CoC #40]. That was awesome. We were playing and weren't even realising we were there because us here in North America, we hear talk about Dynamo and it's the biggest metal festival in the world and just the idea of making it there is... impossible! But obviously, coming back to Century Media, Century Media Germany had a lot to do with it. Coming back to the album, they helped out a lot with the time: they gave us a greater budget so we had the time to do what we wanted to do. And we worked with Pierre Remillard again and they had no problem with that. Things have been just booming and the studio was relaxed 'cause we had the time to do anything that we wanted. Century Media have been just great about it, waiting for it. Now they've heard it and their feedback to us is very, very positive considering the album. I told them: it's gonna take time, but once it's done it's gonna be something else.

CoC: And it really is something else. It's the second album you guys have done with Mike and it sounds like you've become more comfortable just doing whatever you want. It seems like a very free album.

JL: Yes.

CoC: _NSV_ and _WS_ were both creatively interesting and different but this one you just seem to have written -an album-. There doesn't seem to have been any need for it to be a death metal album or any particular kind of album, it's just a Cryptopsy album.

JL: Exactly. I can't say it better than what you just said. That's exactly it, you're right. _Whisper..._ was the beginning of our "extreme metal" side. _None So Vile_ is like the beginning. _None So Vile_ is still a -death metal- album, but the beginning of technicality started there. And then for _Whisper..._ -- because of all the pressure that I mentioned earlier -- we wanted to give something even more. But by being extremely intense. But this album, like you said, it's a free album, and what contributed a lot to it is that there was a lot of help from everyone. Before, me and Flo [Mounier, drums] used to be the main writers -- for _None So Vile_ and even a lot of _Whisper..._. But on _Whisper..._ Eric had adapted to the band -- he's been in the band a long time now -- so he started writing a lot, and on this album he wrote an entire song. "...And Then It Passes" is his song. He showed me the riff, we worked it out with Flo and that's what came out. Other songs like "We Bleed" and "Voice of Unreason" me and Flo wrote, but all the other five new songs on the album -- I couldn't even say that it's more me than anybody else: it's a group effort. Even Alex, our new guitar player, had a couple of ideas. Obviously he had just entered the band and it wasn't an easy task for him to adapt so fast to a band that was extreme when he was coming from a more power metal type of band, but he did! Because he practiced. But obviously his ideas, some of them were not exactly in the Cryptopsy vein, but some of them that we found interesting we, like, worked on with him, so at least the basic ideas came from him, y'know. So it was very much a group effort and it's a free album, like you say. It bounces from Morbid Angel to Primus.

CoC: It definitely flips from one place to another. Recently I've found that a lot of the death metal scene's lacking creativity.

JL: Yeah, in death metal, yes.

CoC: One of the things that really got me going recently has been some of the American noisecore stuff like Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan. I was curious whether you'd picked up any of that, whether that had sort of influenced -- maybe not the album, but you musically?

JL: Well, I know Dillinger and they are indeed very fucked up and I respect them at a high level for what they do because they're crazy. It's something else: the musicianship and the way that they change things around is on the money all the time. It demands a lot of work. I can't really say that we're directly influenced. I think that maybe what happens is that we are a bit influenced by what they're a bit influenced by also. 'Cause for example, Mike's influenced by like death metal, but with a hardcore feel -- which is still really aggressive 'cause there are some hardcore singers that I've seen live that are just ten times more brutal than some basic death metal singer. So that's it, you know.

CoC: These days I think those noisecore bands are closer to Cryptopsy in both talent and extremity -- the way they do things -- than a lot of the death metal bands out there. There are still plenty of good death metal bands around, but I think what you do technically is closer to what those bands do: using odd timings, syncopating things and weaving stranger stuff into whatever you're doing.

JL: Yeah, if we influence it or not it's kind of hard to say, 'cause we're still a growing band. When people tell me they're influenced by Cryptopsy I find it awkward, because I'm supposed to be influenced, because on a musician point of view it's very different from an outside point of view. What I find cool is that at least recently there's been bands coming out that have been doing extreme music, but that is totally different from one another. There are so many bands now that are so brutal, but they all have something that's them, and it's their musical composure that makes them that band. And it's good musicians too. To be able to go through so many things and so fast -- as bands are doing now --, you have to be on your game. Like you have to be there mentally and you have to be knowing what the hell you're doing.

CoC: I think that's completely true. As far as touring partners for this album go, who are you thinking of going out with?

JL: Well, often agencies book those tours; we don't really have a big choice. But, if we were to go out on tour, the ideal tour for now in my mind in -extreme- metal -- because I think that now the death metal we've become with other bands is more as extreme metal than death metal. Obviously death metal is our roots -- there's no hiding that. Like before death metal was big it was thrash metal, then ten years later it was death metal. And now we are ten years later than death metal, so I tend to think of it more as extreme metal. I would see on tour three bands; the ideal tour for now I think would be Nile, Cryptopsy and Cephalic Carnage.

CoC: Cephalic Carnage is a very cool band.

JL: We've toured twice with Nile already and we get along just great with those guys, they've actually become like tour brothers. And we've met Cephalic Carnage many times and those guys are very fucked up too. And even their music is like: oh my god! But it's cool, 'cause you have to listen to it to appreciate it. It's like, you listen to it once, for sure, the first listen is very awkward 'cause you don't know really what to expect, but after listening to it you realise the detail coming out of it and it's there that you realise that the extreme bands are giving a lot of thought to what they do: they take time and they let inspiration come naturally. That in all would be cool if from now on the bands would always continue to have a new side. 'Cause let's face it, these bands are not only influenced -- as with us -- from typical death metal bands, because we couldn't influence ourselves on typical death metal to start getting ideas that are weirder. When death metal was at a low five years ago there was nothing we could influence ourselves upon, and we wanted to create music that was continually evolving, so that's why we changed, and a lot of people did that too.

CoC: I think Cryptopsy and Cephalic Carnage and a lot of bands now have really gone beyond scene music. Death metal really used to be divided into scenes: what scene you came from determined where your music came from.

JL: Yes.

CoC: I think that's really starting to dissipate.

JL: Oh yes.

CoC: Scene death metal is all old. There is nothing more you can really do with the Florida death metal sound, y'know.

JL: And it's okay, 'cause that's the evolution of music. If we just take metal it always has: Black Sabbath came out with it and then Metallica was huge and then thrash metal was huge and then speed metal and Slayer came about and when Slayer came that was a -big- turning. I think that Slayer were the beginning of the even more violent music. And what's great about Slayer is that they've stayed the same throughout all the years and that's why I think as a metal band Slayer would have to be the most unanimous, respected band in the world.

CoC: I think they should be, if they aren't.

JL: These guys have been going at it -- and we've seen metal bands go commercial, we all know that --, but they've stayed true and accepted their popularity and didn't care and always did it for metal.

CoC: And I think nowadays there are a lot of places you can go. Going back to the album, what made you decide to use the digereedoo at the beginning of "Screams Go Unheard"?

JL: That is part of the free flowing of the album, it's just that at a certain time while we were writing new material our manager -- the ex-manager from Voivod, Morris Richard, who also manages Obliveon. Well, he manages other Quebec artists -- francophone artists -- and Morris invited, one night, Flo and Alex to go see the show. It's commercial, but the guy's a good singer, his name is Burno Pensi, very good singer. That digereedoo guy did a piece at this show and he played the digereedoo not as commonly as what you would hear like in Austalia or something.

CoC: Not the traditional way, right?

JL: Exactly. He uses it in a really -weird- way and then we said: well, we gotta have that on the album 'cause it's an instrument where, in the studio, when he was taping it and we were listening to playback, we were cranking it out loud and it's as if you... You know that disease you have when you look at a painting, when there's a bit of hypnotism there?

CoC: Magic eye, when it all goes strange, right?

JL: Exactly, you can spend like an hour and a half looking at it and have the impression that it's fifteen minutes. The same effect happens, you're there and time just stands still. You lose the notion of time -- and then we realised: this lasted two minutes! I didn't feel it was two minutes 'cause I was so stunned by it. It's great. Crank it loud on a good sound system, 'cause it fuckin' blows you away, man.

CoC: I'll give it a shot!

JL: And the guy came in, did three tracks with three different digereedoos, one from Australia, from the tribal regions -- the higher pitch one, that is very much more like the Australian one. But the two others, he has one intonated in D and I think the other one was an E or something like that. We thought of putting it right near the end because we put "Back to the Worms" right before that. But on the album there's a tendency: it starts off with like new stuff and then towards the end of the album, when you're at the "Equivalent Equilibrium", it's more a song that's going back to the old days of Cryptopsy. It's two songs. It's like a _None So Vile_-ish, _Blasphemy Made Flesh_-ish type of song, and that's how we wanted to write it, too. So that's why, by having that song there, we said: well, then we're gonna use "Back to the Worms" to put right afterwards 'cause since we're bringing people back to what Cryptopsy used to be on the first two albums we still put some new stuff in there. In "Equivalent..." there's that funky bass thing. Then we're gonna finish the album with "Screams Go Unheard", with the digereedoo, and the song itself, with the ending, we always thought -- when we finished that song, we said: this is a cool song for just ending an album. And we said: we'll have to end it with power this time. It was actually pretty funny 'cause we did a listening party in Montreal at one of the biggest metal clubs there. We put the CD on and it was free, so fans could just walk in and hear the album. They heard the album before anyone else. It was pretty funny because when the didge started, people thought it was the end of the album -- as if it was the end of the song --, so people started walking out, because it lasts long, and then the song starts and everyone comes running back in.

CoC: And after "Screams Go Unheard" it kinda fades back into something similar to the intro. What's the deal with the intro, 'cause I was told that there was supposed to be a sample from "Matrix" that you couldn't get licensing for or something?

JL: Well, obviously the main idea came from that, but the way that the guy says it in the movie is cool, but if you listen to it loud enough there's a lot of ambient noises. It would be too ambient when you blow it up loud and what the guy says would not be as in your face. Also, we talked with Century Media about it and obviously for the rights maybe it could have been done, but since there was the ambient noise factor we thought: we're just gonna do something that is quite similar. And with the intro to the album, I'm glad that you saw that at the end of the album we come back to what we've done in the beginning. It's cool that you noticed that pattern going towards the old and didge and then the new stuff like the beginning of the album. But the intro itself, at the beginning, we tried to just not have an intro that would start typically. Some albums you hear the intro and then it starts and then it just continues. So we thought: we're gonna put the intro, put a little bit of music, and then continue the intro to confuse people. Then start off with the initial beat of the album.

CoC: It's a cool intro, and I think it's better if you don't take it from the film, it gives the album more of an individual character.

JL: And it was a lot more imposing in the studio 'cause we didn't have to deal with that ambient noise. It's more in your face: vocals and train. As far as sampling goes, we had more time to work on samplings, because _Whisper..._ was so one shot we didn't have time to do any real intro. This time we had time and ideas prior to going into the studio. The scream of the girl, the beginning of "Screams Go Unheard", the digereedoo plays a while with us. It's panned from side to side.

CoC: Is the cover the specific to anything or is it just a great image to have with the whole train sound and everything?

JL: Well, it's just that the whole image was an idea that we had but it didn't only come from us. By touring and by talking to people playing North America, Europe and Japan -- it's fucked up 'cause there's always been something that people would come up to us and say and some people would come up and say: "when I listen to a Cryptopsy CD I feel like I am getting run over by a train". <I laugh> And we said: OK. We take it as a compliment, it's cool. Then we just said: it's a cool image, it's now a question of just getting a perfect image. And then we gave the idea to our graphic designer -- not too sure, but our graphic designer once again did a great job on the artwork. We went with the concept of not showing too much of the image; what we show on the cover is just a part of the image, because when you'll be able to open up the whole CD there's more. So that's it; that was pretty much just the idea. We took the band photo in an old train in Ottawa. The Museum of Science and Technology, they pulled out an old wagon of 1908. They pulled it out of a huge garage there and took everything off and they made it so we could take pictures and then they put it back in after. They were really cool with us. We took the picture in there and obviously our graphic designer again worked a lot as far as designs. He's a big perfectionist: when we tell him to stop 'cause it's nice enough, he never stops. As he did on our website ( I'll give you a secret: if you fuck around with it long enough you can open hidden things.

CoC: Now that Mike's been in the band long enough I assume he's writing most of the lyrics, right?

JL: Yes, Mike is complete lyricist and vocalist. He writes all the lyrics, also in part because Alex used to write lyrics for his band, I used to -- a long time ago, ten years ago -- write lyrics, but now Mike writes his lyrics to the songs. While we write the song, even if Mike can't sing the song because he doesn't know the song, he's always sitting there listening to our progression, and even giving his opinion because while we're going -- if he has a vocal idea -- he stops us and says: okay guys, I'm thinking about doing this and this. So we modify the music. That's what I meant about a -tighter teamwork- this time. And he writes his lyrics to the songs so the feeling that he gets from the song gives him the feeling to what he writes about, and he writes about it and just structures everything into the song. And on this album he did even better than he did on _Whisper Supremacy_ because there's a lot of details that musically are there that Mike realises are there. So what he does is, he'll sing and when this slight detail comes along in the music that is gonna give a little spice to it, he's just gonna let it go and catch on on vocals later on or something like that. So it's cool to see that a singer is really implicated in the musical aspect. So compared to Lord Worm I think that we're much more a tight unit.

CoC: Yeah, there doesn't seem to be any sort of ego clash: "I wanna do some more vocals" or "I wanna do some more guitar".

JL: No. I mean, guitar, I could say: I wanna do a solo per song. But for how long has that been done? Some songs don't need it. Some songs, I think, do need it. In "We Bleed", which is much more progressive, yes, Alex and I each have a solo: it's a progressive song. But there's other songs when we go back to the past, like typical brutal stuff like "Voice of Unreason" that just don't need a solo.

CoC: For me it worked well as an album because "...And Then It Passes" has a little bit of lead widdling but there's no solo in it. And you have to get all the way to "We Bleed" and it builds you up more for it.

JL: Exactly, and "...And Then It Passes" is actually a first for Cryptopsy: a twin technical solo, me and Alex together at once. I start off the solo, we join in together and he finishes off the solo. And within that, while we're twin soloing there's no rhythm guitar in the back, it's just bass popping. We just said: we're just gonna go crazy, we're just gonna do something that's just gonna sound -whack-, you know. Me and Alex didn't really try to go musical on there because the song is pretty whack to start off with. We said: we're just gonna go for like craziness, that's all.

CoC: It's a very pounding piece of music.

JL: It's funny, I find. <we both laugh>

CoC: Finally, you as a band seem to have raised your profile with the dates in Europe [CoC #42] and all that sort of thing and people seem to be much more aware of this new album than they have been before. People seem to be way more into the band than they were a few years ago, and do you think that with what the album is -- being very technical -- that it might break new ground for you popularity-wise?

JL: Hopefully. Again, we do our music because we want to do the music that we do, and obviously we don't think of any commercial part. We do music that challenges us, challenges the people who listen to it, so it's a challenge and it's just new. And if it does [gain more popularity] then cool, but -- as you were even saying earlier -- in general the styles are warping together now. A lot more. And what's cool about the extreme metal scene as a scene for ourselves and other bands: you don't only have the death metal people there. And it's cool because the people from death metal are also going to hear something that's a bit new. So they go more towards that so it's a good follow-up, as we did. We are from death metal, but you've got some people now, we've got a certain -- the more violent hardcore scene, bands like Converge and Hatebreed. Some fans of that recognise themselves in what we do because we're extreme. Because hardcore -- like Converge, Converge is a hardcore band and a half! A hardcore band with blastbeats, that was like: holy shit!

CoC: I think the dissipation of some of the scenes has been sad in some ways [I'm thinking of death metal and black metal particularly here -- Paul], but I think that's also forced people out of their little, kind of like, hiding holes. There's still a lot of people who stick to their scene and don't really move outside of that, but to be honest I think there is more possibility for people to get into different bands wherever they're from and whatever they're doing.

JL: Exactly, and that's the beauty of it 'cause now, instead of ten years ago, we're uniting styles instead of separating styles. Before, like you said earlier, either you were a metal fan or you were a hardcore fan or you were a fan of a specific style. And now you talk to people and they don't even have to look metal, they listen to some new age but they still appreciate what you do. It's cool because people are opening their minds to music and it's great because we'll be able to make music in general evolve instead of having all that commercial crap that's all the same and lame all the time, you know. At least there's a music style in our scene of metal that's gonna go towards a certain evolution. So at least it's still going on, because music is an art for the ear and in every art there's a progression and we've gotta ensure this progression, you know. Towards time, towards the future, because music has to change. If in a hundred years someone listens to Cryptopsy and they say, "these guys are totally nuts", I'll say, "well, it's cool", because even in a hundred years maybe they've not fully assimilated what the band is about. But I wouldn't be surprised that in a hundred years there'll be like bands that are like two times faster, and we're considered like the slo-mos. Because everyone thought: Jimi Hendrix can't go any faster, blah, blah, blah. And then here's Yngwie Malmsteen. There's always going to be evolution, so even if people think that this is the last speed that they'll be able to hear as far as speed, no. Even Slayer, for a long time it was: you can't go faster than Slayer.

CoC: I recently borrowed some thrash mags done around '85 [thank you, Matthias -- Paul] and people are saying: it can't get any heavier than this.

JL: Exactly.

CoC: It's amazing because people are like saying this now and I'm always very dubious. I think that you can't really see a possibility until someone does it for you.

JL: Yeah.

CoC: I remember -- not to be too sycophantic -- when _None So Vile_ came out I remember a lot of people being shocked, people who were into death metal, because it was -that- fast, it was -that- aggressive.

JL: That's just progression, 'cause now bands have come up to that level and there will be bands who come after who will be even more extreme. That's progression. In how long, it's hard to say, but it will happen. In time, if Cryptopsy is just one of the bands who helped to make the liaison between, well, great! And next album, well, I can't say that we have any songs written for it, but it's gonna be again something different like we've always done: from _Blasphemy..._ to _None So Vile_ to _Whisper..._ to _And Then You'll Beg_. The next album: expect the unexpected.

Jon and I also chatted about:

Albums that grow...

JL: The albums that I've taken the most time to get used to are the ones I put on regularly, like Liquid Tension Experiment. That's fucked up.

My appraisal of Cryptopsy [yes, my ego needed feeding... -- Paul]

JL: I see that you've listened to the album very carefully 'cause you were on the ball about everything musically.

(article submitted 10/1/2001)

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
4/13/1998 P Schwarz Cryptopsy: Blasphemous, Vile and Now Supreme
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
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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