Glowing as a final ember in a campfire that’d been flung a thousand feet careening through the sky a neon trail spirals left and right before stabilizing above. The silhouette against the starless sky is formless as if mechanically blurred to merge with the darkness of space, and trick the lightly evolved human eye. The cold breeze I’d thought I’d felt as I scrambled for my flashlight was in fact a thick mist, a descending fog akin to dry ice, chilling the air around me in puffs and sprays. From the blackness above poured an entity, an crystalline-fleshed, almond-eyed humanoid peering at me with the decisive gaze of an insect assessing its escape. The three who’d been asleep in the campsite as I’d awaken to pee showed no signs of waking from the kiss of the targeted clouds of sleep atop them. I was kept awake, perhaps I’d been chosen randomly as an experiment in pain and reaction but every scream met with the dry clicking of my immobilized throat. Four fingered and lazing limbed, these celestial scientists would dissect the very memories from my head into a panel lain upon my chest, a sashimi plate of my neuronal growths to feast upon. Snapping inner cranial voices intensified as they picked hungrily over the pieces of my mind and there I’d faint only to wake in the mud of the morning rain of our campsite on Pillsbury Island, near Eagle Lake in Allagash, Maine. Only ‘Cryptic Visions’ of these events remain, the abduction, the harvest, and the veritable Sunday dinner made of my mind. Hypnosis pulls the trauma of the abduction into reality once more but, nothing could put it into words until the thrashers at the tip of the world in St. John’s, Canada set it to bounding 80’s speed metal driven melodic heavy metal anthems.
Formed between members of Fireign and Social Services in unison with the formation with fellow offshoot Emblem, the scope of heavy/speed metallers Allagash was evident on their self-titled debut ‘Allagash’ in 2016 but, their early material was malformed and weirdly subdued. I wouldn’t fault any band for rough edges in a DIY setting, hell it often adds some valuable charm to heavy metal records, though their treatment of that debut didn’t sound like it’d met their own goals. ‘Cryptic Visions’ barnstorms its way into the future with a clean facelift that still smacks of underground heavy metal a la Brocas Helm that no longer mumbles alone in the dark. The stink of the garage is all over this second Allagash album but nothing is buried or hidden from view; It isn’t such a bare ‘old school’ rendering but a unique use of space that compartmentalizes the vocals in the mix, giving it a sort of metallic echo chamber that distinguishes vocalist Mooncrawler more than previous. The ease of classic speed/power metal a la early Angel Dust, Running Wild, Powerlord and the slightly spaced feeling of post-NWOBHM speed metal clash with the more aggressive and polished touch of today for an album that is more ragged and loose than say, Booze Control or Spellcaster but could still fit comfortably on a bill with each. I wouldn’t be surprised if Allagash were inspired by Manowar (or… Thor?) on some level but a distinctly mid-80’s speed metal and early 90’s power metal style carries throughout the rhythms of this record.
You might dive jump into ‘Cryptic Visions’ and immediately feel the humanist message that the spoken word intro provides. It is a charismatic speech suggesting that if an alien invasion would happen all men on Earth would come together, and what a sweet unity it would be if we saw war itself as alien. Until you realize that it was a late 80’s speech from Ronald Reagan as he addressed the the United Nations, a completely embarrassing moment only on tenth as dangerously crazy as the administration today. In fact the current United States president almost appears as some kind of war-hungry alien leader as one of his senile tirades finishes off the anthemic power-thrashed opener “Beware the Light”. A sense humor, dread, and sci-fi paranoia all collide on those weirdly atmospheric opening moments and I was personally sold before “Beware the Light” ended. Allagash do appear to have evolved from ideas that might’ve been meant for Fireign at some point but they’ve stuck with it because something special was there. Independent and stylized production, modern thrash riffs, and a distinct vocal style go a long way here though the focus on the melodic heavy metal spectrum leaves some of the songwriting ‘hooks’ lacking even in an 80’s heavy metal context. Sometimes-weak bass guitar tone begins feel like a bigger oversight than it probably is as honeymoon energy of discovering ‘Cryptic Visions’ wears off. I wouldn’t say I’d ever gotten bored of the full listen but, the voice samples and rough edges would eventually have me hitting the fast-forward button towards the riffs and quickly past the 14+ minutes of filler that is “Eagle Lake.”
‘Cryptic Visions’ isn’t a straight up politically charged thrash album at face value though it does smartly weave themes of extra terrestrials with the alien world we live in today. Allagash were named for a UFO sighting and abduction in late 70’s Allagash, Maine wilderness among four friends. The account remains interesting today for its detail though it was later admitted as a hoax by one person involved. The whole thing reads as a gloriously typical LSD trip gone wrong in the woods that’d end in the sterile surgical examination rooms of an alien spacecraft. Three of the four have stuck with their story since then with some books and interviews keeping the events fresh in the minds of those obsessed with such things. I’d probably heard of this story from the Unsolved Mysteries television program when I was a kid as they’d done several episodes on alien abduction accounts on each run of the show. The themes and imagery weren’t incredibly compelling beyond resembling that late 80’s/early 90’s sci-fi obsession within prog-thrash and power metal circles.
Allagash have nailed their sound, concept, and their guitar-driven sensibilities are fantastic to the point that I think there is something here for anyone wanting an ‘epic heavy metal’ feeling applied to an extraterrestrial speed metal album. Where I fall off of the operating table comes with the padding ‘Cryptic Visions’ receives from the somewhat inconsequential “Eagle Lake” and some generally repetitive songwriting beyond the first five or so tracks. What saves the full listen and the experience as a whole is undoubtedly the strong performance from Mooncrawler and the fine dual guitar solos that jolt ‘Cryptic Visions’ full of exuberance and powerful feeling. These far east Canadians chug along with true style and even if their second full-length isn’t perfection in any sense they have managed to craft a highly memorable and energetic record that I can give moderately high recommendation of. For preview “Beware the Light” is clearly the clincher and the album seller, but “From the Dark” and “Evil Intent” are equally exciting as first impressions.
Back from the shadows. 3.75/5.0
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