Cryptic Age, Ravenage
26th May 2012
Having been fans of Cryptic Age since seeing them play the Bloodstock Metal 2 the Masses heat in Selby last year, my friends and I were anticipating the ‘Sounds of Infinity’ launch with excitement. The line-up on the bill did not disappoint. In fact, the evening was so enjoyable that we christened the evening ‘Yorkstock’. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the first or third bands of the evening – due to arriving shortly before Ravenage began their set and human needs for food and alcohol.
Ravenage’s unique blend of medieval-inspired folk metal was catchy and infused the crowd with excitement. Taking to the stage, the band created instant impact with plain medieval tunics. This could be gimmicky for a band who lacked the talent to back it up – however, Ravenage’s members possess talent in spades. They also don’t become too hyperbolic with the image so it adds to the overall effect of their music – rather than detracting – and is fun, rather than cheesy.
When watching Ravenage, their prolific stage experience is clear. They are tighter than medieval churches’ thumbscrews and their stage presence is second to none – even including bands signed to major labels. Their solidity as a unit is driven by the talented drummer ‘Eldgrim’, who engineers the machine steadily forward throughout the set. (More on ‘Eldgrim’ later, in his set as Cryptic Age’s drummer). Bassist ‘Ragnar’ expertly provides the glue that adheres the lead section to the drums. Ragnar does more as a bassist than simply provide root notes, adding a unique dimension to the music.
Guitarists ‘Dagstyrr’ and ‘Einar’ proficiently make their guitars sing, cry, laugh and tell a thousand stories of times long forgotten. Their melodies are catchy, which is necessary for a band that is so close to black metal in genre. It is keyboardist ‘Windrider’ who cements the band’s identifiable sound as so unique. Though rarely used as a lead instrument, the atmosphere generated through well-chosen effects and distinctive harmonies furthers the archaic image of the band. Windrider also skilfully adds deep, growling backing vocals to highlight and counterplay key phrases.
Vocalist ‘Glyn the Heralder’ is a gifted frontman and works the crowd like silly putty, vigorously moving across the stage. Glyn’s powerful, aggressive, growled vocals are melodic and his lyrics are always clear. He adeptly manipulates his voice, both on longer, extended phrases and on faster lyrics that fire, with machine-gun intensity, at the crowd.
Overall, Ravenage were a thoroughly enjoyable experience, like getting out of a bath of mead and wrapping yourself in a blanket of homespun cotton. They certainly left the crowd enthusiastic both for ‘More Beer’ – and for more metal!
The Germans are well known for creating long words that encompass ideas (e.g. schadenfreude). To adapt this phenomenon to English – and to describe Cryptic Age – the best word would be ‘MysteriousepicmelodicfolkCelticdifferentprogressivemetal’.
Adorning the stage were large banners of the album’s cover art, advertising the CD, further adding to the festival atmosphere. Despite somewhat cramping the stage, they definitely looked impressive and professional. There isn’t another band quite like Cryptic Age but their performance on the 26th definitely put them in the league with bands such as Nightwish and Within Temptation.
Drummer Alex Bransden (recovered from his set with Ravenage) was a metronome, ably managing numerous tempo and time signature changes, driving the band’s performance forward. He skilfully shifts between tribal-like drumming, steady, driving beats and faster, almost thrash-like double kick.
The bass guitar is an often overlooked instrument. When bands have only a single guitar (as Cryptic Age does), the bassist’s normal duties double. Tom Keeley provided a solid, driving engine, an almost thrumming, pulsing beat, while still providing some countermelody and harmony. He also seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself, grinning from ear to ear and headbanging his way through the set.
Hallam Smith’s guitar work was spectacular – he pulled double duty both as a rhythm player beneath keyboard solos and as a lead instrument. His rhythm work was solid and driving and he clearly enjoys an intuitive relationship with Keeley. His lead work ranged from intricate and technical to passionate and emotive – while technically an extremely skilled player, Smith is able to express, through six strings, a gauntlet of emotions, adding to the dramatic effect of the music.
As with Ravenage, it is the keyboards (and folky melodies) that really set Cryptic Age apart from other metal bands. Frontwoman and keyboardist Jenny Green utilises well-chosen effects and has skilfully chosen melodies that conjure up a variety of images – from a wind-swept plain to an Irish pub to a fairy realm to a classical concert hall. Green’s keyboard expertise was clearly prevalent on the 26th – they sounded the same live as they do on the recording. The band makes use of Green’s skills effectively, including long, instrumental sections that still have a lot of variety, holding the audience’s interests.
Of course, Green’s main function is to serve as a vocalist and frontwoman. She has a wonderfully effortless coloratura soprano voice, easily climbing up to top Bs and Cs without sounding like she is straining. The image her voice conjures up is of someone reclining on a cloud – high, relaxed and floating. Her voice easily sits on top of the music, pitch-perfect – and it really is its own instrument, telling its own stories. Fortunately as well, due to clever orchestration (and talent) Green is able to perform both keyboard and vocalist duties to a high standard, so that the one does not detract from the other.
Overall, Cryptic Age’s ‘Sounds of Infinity’ album launch was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, further solidifying their place as a talented, unique band ready to take the world by storm.
“Take me away / let me be free / show me the way / to infinity.” That you did, Cryptic Age. That you certainly did.
Melissa ‘Aonia’ Adams