Welcome to instalment number sixteen of my 2020 ‘Album of the Year Top 30 countdown’. We’ve made it into the top 15, where the number order is far more prescribed and thought through. In fact, the ordering from now on has given me sleepless nights, as I go backwards and forwards, trying to figure out who goes where. And then I thought…sod it, it’s just my subjective opinion, so stop worrying and get on with it. And I have.
Just before I get on with it though, I want to give my normal reminder to anyone new to this series, to check out the links at the bottom of the post to find out who made the cut, from 30 down to 16, as well as my lists from previous years too.
But now I shall get on with it I promise…
Once Upon A Time
Score Of Much Metal: 94%
Today’s pick is yet another new discovery for me in 2020. Two previous albums passed me by, and so ‘Once Upon A Time’ represented my first introduction to Cryptex, a German trio who have had quite a profound impact on me during this darkest of years.
Like a breath of fresh air, Cryptex offer something rather unique and original. Of course there are going to be occasional reference points, such as A.C.T or even the sadly defunct Fair To Midland. However, these references alone, to those in the know, should start ringing bells. That’s because Cryptex are a progressive rock band, with art rock leanings, that are comfortable to throw just about anything and everything into their musical offerings. Nothing is off limits, even nods to Broadway and the West End thanks to the larger-than-life pomp and flamboyance at points.
I love the way that the music is deadly serious, even slightly dark in places, and yet there’s a golden thread of upbeat, fun quirkiness that shines through. The Germans clearly have a sense of humour, but they are able to marry this with astute professionalism, brilliant songwriting, and incredibly tight individual performances And some of the complexity is stunning; it’s the kind of complexity that doesn’t reveal itself until it is good and ready.
I haven’t stopped listening to ‘Once Upon A Time’ since I started listening to the promo around April time. In fact, I pre-ordered the disc after a few spins and now the album is proudly nestled in my collection. I don’t tire of the music, not one jot. It still sounds fresh and vibrant several months later. And as such, it rightly has a place in my top 15 at the end of 2020.
What I wrote at the time:
“The very first thing to mention, is their originality, as I have wracked my brains but still can’t think of another band that sounds quite like this, even though they never stray too far into ‘bonkers’ or avant-garde territory. Nevertheless, there’s a quirkiness to Cryptex that draws me like a moth to a flame. Cryptex blend both modern and ‘classic’ progressive rock with a heaviness and a definite darkness borrowed from the metal world. But they also manage to weave in mainstream pop/rock melodies and hooks, as well as flirting with something close to show tunes material, the kind of theatrical music you’d perhaps hear in the West End or Broadway.
Reference points are difficult and, to a greater extent pointless, but that being said, I do hear occasional nods to the likes of Swedish art-rock band A.C.T, when Cryptex dabble with those quirkier ideas, not to mention in the vocal department too; both bands place great emphasis on storytelling and layers of vocals. And, whilst the two bands sound poles apart in many ways, the spirit of Cryptex is not dissimilar to that of Fair To Midland, in that both feel slightly irreverent, but manage to captivate me in spite of this.
… I find myself more and more enamoured with Cryptex with every passing spin.
For me, it has to be one of the very best surprises of the year so far, one that I think will find favour with anyone with a penchant for highly original and incredibly intelligent progressive music.”
Read the full review here.
The list this year so far…
If you’ve missed my lists from previous years, you can check them out here: