I’m a curious guy by nature. When you tell me something exists, but you refuse to show it to me, I’ll go to great lengths just to have it. This brings me to today’s Heavy Buys. Coming from Ontario, Canada, Crystal Larva have created an almost-monochrome Bandcamp page for their album Sacrificial Blade. However, what’s online is merely a one-minute excerpt from that album, and the option to buy the cassette tape. It is said that this edition, limited to forty units, will never be repressed or re-released. Of course, this got me tingling. It wasn’t long before I impulsively decided to buy it, which landed me a bill of over $30, when you include taxes and shipping costs. Do I think that’s a little steep for a ten-minute, one-track album? Yes, obviously, but their marketing strategy — offering a super exclusive item that’s nowhere to be found online — worked for me.
The package was shipped within a week, and was delivered two days after that. Once I opened the brown, cushioned envelope and buried my hand into it, I was surprised by what my fingers touched, as it wasn’t what I was expecting.
Inside was the cassette wrapped in black cloth and bound in ropes accompanied by a quartz crystal. I think the crystal was supposed to be in a rope loop, but must have slipped off during transport. This is a really cool product presentation, handmade with delicacy and thoughtful care. You can only afford to do such things when you’re a small band, or when you sell really limited copies of a merchandise. Now, I only have to untie the knots binding the package…
Ahh! Finally! The tape is covered by cardboard printed with the desolate and striking artwork of Sacrificial Blade, as well as the sinuous band logo dominating it all. The back side shows the lyrics of the song in all-capital blackletter style, which makes it pretty hard to read, but you can’t argue against the credibility of blackletter. The opening was very fun and a rather unique experience, in today’s music world.
Here’s the matte black cassette tape with an imaged version of its title on both sides. It’s impossible to tell which is side A and which is side B, so I guess we’ll see once I put it in the tape deck. First try, wrong side. Turn it around, press play, and the music slowly starts playing.
There’s a reason cassette tapes fell into disuse, put into their grave by the compact disc. In fact, there’s many reasons, but I’m not here to write a dissertation on the advantages and disadvantages of many audio supports. In short, its sound is shallow, and can be unequal depending on the cassette player. The noise to signal ratio is quite high, which means that there’s a lot of unwanted background noise getting in the way of the music, a thing CDs have eradicated, for the most part. Cassette tapes have, however, made a huge comeback, most prominently in the black metal scene. Now, on to the actual music.
Crystal Larva describe themselves as an atmospheric black metal band. It’s not wrong, but there’s also an almost cybergrind aspect to it, thanks to their programmed drums with superhuman speed and stamina. The ten-minute eponymous track starts off with a rather simple motif that will be developed during the course of its runtime. It consists of three descending chords in slow succession and a crotchet rest where each cycle lasts for more than thirty seconds before getting repeated with due variations and other interceding parts in-between.
Like mentioned before, the track sounds pretty shallow because of its outdated format, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely unenjoyable. The melodic parts are lush and ominous, they sound huge and at times terrifying. The pounding drums sound like your judgement is nigh. The vocals are somewhat on the back seat, almost ethereal, but amplify the atmosphere even more. All the elements are there to have a pretty good time, although I’d love to have access to a master that’s truer to the actual music, without the flaws of cassette tapes. Although, I don’t think that’s happening any time soon.
In the end, Crystal Larva’s Sacrificial Blade was an impressive package with a lot of attention to detail. The ten-minute running time of the cassette is small, and, for the same price, you could expect something that’s three or four times that length, but the song they presented us on this tape is good and solid. I have a slight aversion towards programmed drums, but, here, they don’t take too much away from the music, and some might argue they add flavour to it — tastes differ! The tape has a limited edition of forty units, so, if you’re the collector type, you might want to secure a copy quickly.