, guitarist and mainman for the brutal band Cryptopsy
, speaks with a Quebeccois accent. It is not quite French, not quite Canadian, but it is always full of passion and honest. That is exactly the type of guitar playing he brings to the band's new album. The Unspoken King
is full of the violent and extreme midnight metal that you've come to expect from this Montreal five-piece. Auburn
burns down these tracks with spurts of riffs that fly from his guitar like fire from a flamethrower. But he also brings a more sophisticated approach on songs like "Exit (The Few)
" and "Leach.
" In fact, this former track is based on a classical canon and really brings something new to the repertoire of metal guitarists.
and his cohorts have come under ridiculous criticism for wanting to expand Cryptopsy
's sound and not just generate the same blast-beat riffs and screamo vocals. Keyboards peak through on occasion (on rare occasion) and singer Matt McGachy
can be heard singing in non-corrosive tones. For this, fans have bashed them and ridiculed them mercilessly. This contempt from fans has obviously impacted on the band and Alex
feels, in some respects, betrayed by the people he believed supported him.
The guitarist talks about his feelings for the new record and his thoughts on these pretty horrific insults. He is proud of the new CD and he has every right to be. Every band from Trivium
to Avenged Sevenfold
have ventured out of the strict realm of hardcore metal and have still experienced widespread success. Anybody who understands the least little bit about the creative process, must realize that change is inevitable. And that is absolutely true with musicians.
UG: Some of the comments that have appeared online regarding the Unspoken King CD are ridiculous. They don't deserve any consideration from you or anyone in Cryptopsy. But for a moment, we're going to do a What if? Here's the hypothetical: If you were the world's biggest Cryptopsy fan and not their guitarist, how would you react when you heard this new album? Remember, you're not in the band now, but you're someone who's been following the band for years. Trying to be absolutely honest, do any of these observations hold any grain of truth for you?
It's very difficult since I'm in the band and I'm so profound(ly) into, it's difficult a little bit to take it away; to be like in another person's mentality. It reminds me, sometimes I get really fucked up; I come home and I'm a little bit drunk and I'll smoke a little bit and then I get really into this non-personality that I have. I've got like a second vibe, if you understand what I'm saying?
And these are the only times when I listen to the album, any album we did that I was I especially. And I get really fucked up and then I can, a little bit, get outside of it and that's when I enjoy it because I'm totally like in another mood. And I'm not kidding, I only listen to the album when I'm practicing with it; I only listen in that particular case. When I listen to it, it's very hard because my perspective is so different than a young guy's mentality.
I remember growing up and being really into Bay Area trash metal; I remember I was waiting for Master of Puppets and then I got to buy And Justice For All and got a little bit disappointed. But it was the same original members except Cliff Burton. But it was not a thing about members really; it was a thing about the songs. I got a little bit disappointed but for me Metallica was Metallica. And after that the only big disappointment for me was when they did like Load and ReLoad. When they did that it was a really fucking big difference from what they did in the past.
What I can't relate on, we've always said we've been extreme and saying, like a director in a movie, being extreme is going from flowers to guns; it enables us to play with everything. So you're looking at 180 degrees around you and you're turning your head. Instead of like doing 30 degrees, 60 degrees, you just move your head all around and get much more flavors.
We have loads of shit of fuckin' intensity but we're adding stuff that was not been done in the past. That's what I don't catch about people's mentality from that. When I was young, if I wouldn't like the album, I'd buy another band's album as far as intensity or whatsoever. Then I got into Slayer and stuff. But I always liked Metallica's the first five or something like that. To not like a band as they are dropping, in a sense, they would have to drop like major time.
And this is funny because it's the first time we actually have a real singer. You know? Lord Worm, seriously he's not a singer, he's a growler. And if you'd be in the band, you'd know that a lot of times in the studio he was totally off; he is off. He's got a problem with tempo so his vocals were replaced a lot of times in the studio for whatever album. He can't count and being focused; get his feet goin' through a song. I don't know how he does it but he can sing but there's a lot of fuckups live. And, I don't know, personality, charisma, and when he joined back, 'cause I know a lot of people like him, we thought it was a good timing. And he didn't travel that much so we said, OK, fuck it, this is the best thing for us now; we can't find anyone else and he was ready to do it because he was teaching the other guy English to do lyrics but the other guy was too much French.
Martin (LaCroix) comes from a totally French (speaking town in Canada); no English there. So, if he could've written English, no problem; but he couldn't. So, basically it was a matter of Lord Worm maybe even at one point writing the lyrics and Marty singing them. But Martin had a problem live speaking and stuff like that and people have to understand really good.
You bring up a lot of valid points. Most fans don't understand the concept of what goes into recording a record and they shouldn't have to. A fan loves what they love and that's what they listen to. But there is a long process involved and a singer has to be able to find the pocket and sing in time. And the other thing that bothered me was how savage some of the comments were. I thought that a metal fan would be there through thick and thin and they'd understand different elements coming in. But they were so, I don't know, narrow in their way of thinking.
|"I could have a really powerful voice if I was practicing all the time."|
Exactly. And the reason why it might be is that the None So Vile kind of fans had the really brutal stuff for a while. And they can't understand at all the changes that people can do? As far as we were concerned, we were fed up with growling and shouting and badaddadadda (mimics growled vocal). And personally I hate these fuckin' vocals; I hate these. The only one that I like is fuckin' bands like Suffocation and I can hear the fuckin' lyrics because I don't know why. He pronounces at the minimum where you can define what the fuck he's saying.
I remember in the past, we were practicing in the same basement and I had another band. And when I was passing by Cryptopsy, I said, What the fuck is this? And I hated them; and I would've never joined the band at that time if they had asked me. I would never join the band. I remember Eric (Langlois) coming to our local because he was friends with my bass player but at that time, no, never, ever. But when I heard Mike DiSalvo and the hardcore feel and he looked like very brutal and I could hear things, that's when I joined the band. I said, Fuck, yeah; they're looking for a guitar player and I knew it was Mike DiSalvo singing; that's why I was interested.
But from the start, fuck it, man, I would've never joined and I was a singer in a band; I sang all my life. I'm not a singer, I'm just like the singer from Kreator. I'm just a guitar player/singer but I could have a really powerful voice if I was practicing all the time. But joining with Mike on vocals and I knew there would be tours going on and stuff and I was waiting for that for fuckin', 15 years so I was set up. So I quit my band (Seisme) to join them and I was the leader of the band so the band was gone.
I did one (solo) album but I was not satisfied at all, but I never played it to anyone except one song on a compilation here in Quebec. There's a song called Resurgence of an Empire and that's totally me and the song resembles a little bit that genre of music.
The song starts like duhduhduhduhduh dndndndndndn (sings the guitar lick); it's like a straightforward 4/4 thing; it was more like catchy and that's why I wanted the riff based on fuckin' people marching to war, in the Napolean Wars. Going upfront (to the frontlines of battle) and at the last moment looking at apartments, their fuckin' wives, since they were the first ones (into battle), you were fuckin' 99 per cent sure to die, so you look at your life, look at your stuff for the last time, and then you go fight for a fucking king. So, it's based on that.
We are going to look at the songs but first
I just want to finish what we were talking about? At one point, we said to ourselves, That's enough; the music is going forward but the vocal is not. Not at all. They're stagnant and they're not good. So, that's why at one point we wanted to change and we said, (If) we can't grow, we will not do bigger tours if we don't change a little bit the style. And we've been playing for so long this brutal stuff, a little change is not that much.
And that's one of the things about this style
You're talking about the brutal stuff?
Yeah, that there isn't much difference from band to band; it tends to sound a little it similar. Brutal music falls within these certain stylistic parameters: Typically it's played at furiously fast speeds; the vocals are mainly screamed and howled; and about the only way to decipher the lyrics is to read the CD book. If a fan will not allow a band to veer outside of these borders, there will never be anything new in the genre. It's like a Zeppelin fan disowning the band after they played some acoustic songs.
That's a good example; Led Zeppelin is a really good example. And look at Fade to Black, the Metalica song on Ride the Lightning. That was a really heavy album back then; I remember every fucking girl falling in love with that song and that song would make more people like the band. And James Hetfield is totally singing; and fuckin', Fight Fire With Fire is totally brutal kind of; Ride the Lightning is kind of groovy; For Whom the Bell Tolls is like a hit. Every song is different; they had the balls to fuckin' do it.
While Slayer was singing like blahblahblahblahblahduhduhduhduhduh (mimics a fast growled lyric). James Hetfield maybe sat on a chair and said, Fuck it; I'm gonna sing if I want.
It takes more musicality to pull off a melody sung in a clean voice than it does to scream one.
Oh, fuck yeah. The people that really understands the stuff on the latest release we did, say that we have balls, man, to bring it on, to bring it over. And many fans I guess they don't know it, but Cryptopsy, maybe Chris (Donaldson), the new guitar player, we don't listen to fuckin' brutal shit. We used to listen brutal shit back then and fuck, man, I'll tell you what the guys listen to exactly. But we don't like the fuckin' vocals anymore, rah rah rah rah rah rah (imitates growled vocal); we hate that. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's really good. But every album we want it differently; we even calculate the two-packs. On Once Was not, there's one, just one. When Flo (Mounier) and I sit, we calculate how many times we did this kind of fuckin' thing on the drums: the blasts, the speedy shit, the two-packs. Everything is calculated because we don't want to repeat ourselves. People don't know that but we do it, we calculate. If we did too much of this, of that, we stop it; we change it. Or, he'll go slow, I'll go fast or vice versa; we'll switch. But we really calculate that to not repeat because we hate it and people might not know it but we don't like to repeat ourselves. And we don't like to do the same album all the time.
I really loved (The) Bleeding from Cannibal Corpse but after a few albums, I said, Fuck, man, it's all the time the same shit; the same solo, the same kind of vibe, the same kind of thing. And we don't like that. We love those guys, we like to tour with 'em, but I know for sure, the singer from Suffocation, our good friend, I don't see him, what's his name, Mike? (Mike Smith is the drummer; Frank Mullen is the vocalist) I don't see him doing what Matt is doing on vocals; I don't see Suffocation going the way we did. But Cryptopsy has always been different and will always be.
We provoke. Here's the thing, listen to this because we can do it. And what we wanted to do with the last album is totally go from A to Z. Like we're gonna hook you up with a nice melody and in a split second we're gonna go extreme totally the opposite way. And in a few songs you have that and every song on the album is really different one to another.
And that's a great point to jump into some of the songs. Contemplate Regicide breaks down about halfway through and goes into that section with the clean vocal. It sounds like a different band and you can really hear the quality of Matt's voice.
|"We've been playing for so long this brutal stuff, a little change is not that much."|
The guy can do anything. We saw him in a couple of shows; he played with us in another band he's got and we been to one of the shows in Montreal to check him out. A few us were drinking and I was far away so I said, Fuck it, we're gonna do a test with the guy. So we did a test with two major guys. The guys worked with Chris (Donaldson), our guitar player, who recorded the album. They went to Chris and Chris brought one song and they sang one after the other on the same song. One did a version, the other did another version, and when we heard Matt's version we were freaked out totally. We said, Fuck, this guy can really fuckin' sing and he's tight as fuck. He understands the music, he calculates it; he's really right on.
Break down how Cryptopsy recorded Contemplate Regicide.
You're gonna freak out, check this out. The first riff coming is mine, it's a new riff (Alex sings it), and then it goes into a riff Chris brought one day. When he brought that one, I automatically composed the other one, the melodic one. The black metal kind of riff. And then there's the bridge; Flo wanted to fuck the song up in the middle. That hardcore feel? We wanted to break the song because that was not in the song; the song was pretty much straightforward. But he said, Let's fuck up the sauce here, so Eric (Langlois; bass guitar) and I worked on a riff and then I just do the same riff but backwards. So I take the same chords but starting from the end and going to the top (sings the riff forwards and backwards).
Then we have the bridge that you were talking about earlier. This is my riff, check this out - from 1988. This is a super old riff I wanted to play in some band, somehow. And when we started to write on that album - and this is the second song we wrote - when we started to write, I said, Now the guys can accept these kinds of riffs because I'm more open-minded to these kind of things. I said this is the right time for a few riffs and this is not the only one; there are other old riffs on the album. This whole part was supposed to be solo all the way with me starting and Chris finishing. And Chris and Matt tried some vocals and we stuck with the vocals because it was too good.
After that I have a solo; there was not supposed to be a solo there, there was supposed to be vocals. So, I did a solo on another riff that was not supposed to be (there); and that was at the end. So I finished all my tracks and the guys said I have to do a solo there. But I didn't write anything so in half-an-hour I wrote this one under pressure; it was fun.
While we're on the subject of soloes, your guitar parts come in like these little stabs here and there. They're here and then they're gone and tonally they're different.
We're both doing them. For us the important thing is to go with what's going on in the song. We just take the vibe and completely go with it and if you have to have two notes in one place, we just do it. Depending on who wrote what and if I write something that I really want to do a solo on, we just talk about it. Or one will want the other to play a solo.
Who's playing what on Leach?
Chris is starting the first one with a kind of Marty Friedman feel, that's what I find. And I wanted to do a classical solo so mine is based on the classical stuff. At the end, I just go by feel but I really wanted a classical thing. And this particular song I wanted us both to go like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, one after the other. And this is the only song in Cryptopsy ever that we did that; we never did a duel solo so I really wanted that. He starts; I'm finishing. It's mainly my song and there's like a riff in the middle that's Chris'. And there's a riff in there from my band Seisme and this is 1997.
Exit (The Few) is obviously something very different for the band.
That's my song; it's a canon. I said I don't want to fuck up with this song, I want mellow shit and I want it really slow. So we did this outro. We decided to speed it up at the end but I didn't want that: I wanted a fadeout but the guys wanted to fuck it up, so, whatever.
You described that song as being based on a canon which it obviously is. But it also has a strange sort of prog feel to it. Did you ever listen to King Crimson or Yes?
Yeah, exactly; I'm the one who listens to prog. I'm a really big fan of old Genesis, King Crimson, bands like that. Actually the old Genesis stuff is my favorite band ever.
Yeah, exactly. Foxtrot, Selling England By the Pound, Trick of the Tail, Nursery Cryme? That's my favorite shit. I'm very influenced; I don't copy but I am influenced a lot with those riffs. It (canon) is always very basic and very simple; it's always three notes. I come back with the tonic; one track starts backwards with the third note so it's basically the same riff going on all around.
So it's harmonizing itself when it moves through those changes.
Exactly; it's like a delay almost but it's a canon; totally.
Bound Dead has that section at about 2:45 with the clean vocals and you can hear some keyboards sneaking through.
Yeah; she (Maggie Durand; keyboardist) helped us through the album, she did a lot of tracks. And in the end, I was working a lot, so Chris was mixing and he took some stuff from her but they mixed it very low. I wanted a little bit more parts for keyboards; they took off a lot of stuff. She actually did a lot more than what you can hear. So, I'm not exactly sure where the stuff is; I can hear stuff, and I don't know if it's that one. But in some songs, I'm not even sure if there are keyboards. If I ask Chris, he worked so much and he's got this very versatile, weird personality, that he will not even remember. On the spot, yes; but after mixing, he's like, Oh, I don't remember. But there are some keyboards; it's very discrete but I like that. It adds more.
Would you bring along keyboards live to play these songs?
We just do the songs without keyboards; we have samples. So, there could be some parts but we would have to play with a click track and we don't do that.
Bringing keyboards to this type of extreme metal is a different approach.
|"For us the important thing is to go with what's going on in the song."|
Yeah; some stubborn fuckups will say, Oh, keyboards? Not interested. And they didn't hear anything. I commented on the forum, on our website, before the album was out and people haven't heard anything. And I was like, Simmer down now; you're not hearing anything and you're shouting, you're screaming, you're freaking out. What is it? What's the problem?
What are you trying to do to the listener with this type of music? Are you trying to assault all the senses? Do you want them walking away staggered like they just went through a ten-round boxing match? Is it meant to uplift?
Nothing. The only thing we think when we build these songs, when we create, is create a really good song and we don't even think about the fans. We want to do the stuff that we want and we don't even care. We care about the fans, we like 'em, but it's not even of our concern. I don't say to Flo, But they're gonna freakout. I know at one point where it's too much, where we think it's too much; and we know we'll not do stupid shit here or sing like opera that's not even supposed to be there. But we don't care about what people will say; we don't think about it. What we want to do now is really good songs, very interesting, with some new stuff. And I guess, not now, maybe ten years from now, there might be some people writing on us in magazines and stating that, These guys and other bands started a new genre; they opened the doors to metal to say there are no boundaries. You can bring blues, you can mix with other stuff, and even mix with western. I don't know; I think that's the way it's gonna be.
Seriously, we didn't care; we did the songs and we wanted every song to be different. That's it. And we don't absolutely want to insult anybody or freak people out.
You actually joined the band in 1999 and And Then You'll Beg was your first CD. Can you compare and contrast your involvement in that first album and the The Unspoken King album? Is it a more seamless process recording and writing with the band that was back in those first days?
The band that I had was more like the last two songs you have on the album, Bound Dead and Contemplate Regicide. So, Seisme was more like a band like this. So I was ready to do less heavier shit and they were really stubborn about some stuff; especially Jon Levasseur; guitarist on early Cryptopsy albums). Jon was brilliant to fuck up the shit and doing some brutal stuff that nobody did. I jumped in so I didn't have much to say at that point; I was really listening a lot and getting through the band. Playing the songs and getting to know them, know the guys. And Then You'll Beg, we just wanted a straightforward really intense album with some really fucked up grooves. At one point, we're not even together. In the fourth song, Prodigal Son, we're doing like a Dream Theater thing with a breakdown and Flo is completely off of us and we're coming back together after a few seconds. All the four of us were into Dream Theater and especially back then. Yeah, Jon and I always go to Dream Theater shows when they come to Montreal. Really good band and I like Liquid Tension Experiment, too. So, we wanted a few samples, that's it; and a very, very intense album.
What was the response to And Then You'll Beg?
On Once Was Not, you were the sole guitar player. How was that different than working with a second guitarist?
I took a lot of responsibility back then when Jon left. When Jon left in 2004, Lord Word was coming in, so I was stuck with doing all the solos because Miguel (Roy; guitarist) did the Canada tour and I had three weeks to learn the None So Vile stuff. It was very hard for me at that point and I was working on top of that; so I got really a lot of responsibility in the band and I was doing all the fucking soloes because Miguel can't. I was playing like non-stop; it was crazy. When we did Once Was Not, Jon wrote that with us but we changed 15 per cent of it and the last song (Endless Cemetery) was longer so we cut it in two songs (also The End). I did like four tracks of guitar (on each song); I did 40 tracks and the guy didn't know ProTools that much. It was crazy but I was so in shape; there were 9 or 10 songs, 4 guitar tracks per song, and I did it in three days, something like that. Really intense. It's only the production I fuckin' hate; we were really proud of the songs. It didn't get to be a good success, I guess, and Flo, and I and Eric didn't understand at all. We thought it would be like breaking some new barriers and stuff; and it didn't. But musically, there's so much stuff, it's unbelievable; there are incredible riffs in there. I'm really proud of some songs, Cadaver Dogs and Angelskingarden. These songs are super nuts. Angelskingarden is mine and I really wanted a classical solo in the middle, and it's totally my trip. It's a really classical solo on top of a classical riff; these parts I'm really proud of.
Daniel Mongrain joined the band?
Yeah; he helped us after Miguel for shows in the U.S. so we continued this None So Vile tour. It was basically the whole album from the beginning to the end and after that four more songs. The people were freaking out totally; they didn't expect that at all.
Covering guitars and stuff, you are an ESP player?
I was but now I've come back to Dean. It's similar to what I had for a long time; I played the Washburn Dimebag for ten years and when I joined Cryptopsy, I already had the guitar. So I was used to that shape and am really comfortable playing these guitars. And then we got an ESP endorsement and I tried them, I played them in Europe and North America, but I don't like the feel. During the soloes, I switch pickups and on the Dean, the button (is right there) and on the Washburn, it's right underneath my right hand and I can get really fast with the tremolo thing. And there was no tremolo on the ESPs. There's one riff on Carrionshine on Once Was Not and it's a tremolo riff; I call it the Cat when you just bend the tremolo. So basically I had to play differently and I didn't like the feel so coming back to Montreal two years ago, I saw the Dean and said, Fuck it. I'm buying; I can't wait. I'm trying to get endorsed right now with these guys. I'm trying, they're hard to reach. We have a hard time with endorsements; we call it the Canadian Curse. On tours, seriously, for fuckin' ten years and more in the U.S., even in Los Angeles, nobody ever came to offer us anything. We never understand that. Only Flo, Flo is endorsed like crazy; he isn't paying for shit. Since we're touring the world, we're basically burning and scraping and destroying the guitars. I rust everything; I sweat so much that my fuckin' bridge is gone; in a few tours it's unbelievably rusted so that's why I need endorsements. My quote was, Do I have to play planet Mars to get endorsed?
Amp wise what do you run?
I like Mesa Boogie; I bought a Triple Rectifier a long time and it's got so much balls, it's go so much power and distortion. Every time I try something else, there's this little extra distortion that is missing. Live they've got so much power.
Interview by Steven Rosen