Every now and then a band will form that frees us from the monotony of the mundane and make us truly listen, coercing us to look up from our phones, step out of our online presence and into the reality of the bar we’ve driven our body to, so we can enjoy something of…substance.
I feel this awakening every time I see Cryptolith play live. It’s an, “Oh yeah, I’m still here, and I want to jump in that moshpit and lose my goddamn mind,” kind of a feeling. One minute I find myself bobbing my head to an intro, the next—I just threw that guy. Hard. Then the pit slams into motion like a slipped clutch and I’m caught along within it, sometimes crashing into others, other times carried by the mob. The music churns our very souls, compelling us to motion with its ferocity. Yeah, sometimes there’s blood. But it’s good blood. It’s the “I’m here and now,” kind of blood rather than the “jumped and robbed behind the bar” kind of blood. Smart metalheads have dental insurance.
Cryptolith has the kind of music that makes you feel the long-lost anger against that tool who slept with your girlfriend; makes you remember the righteousness of your rage, the pure carnage of your fury. And if you aren’t pounding that aggression out in the pit, you have better control than I.
The leader of this cacophony is the guy with the microphone onstage, wearing a tank top metal shirt, rattling our intestines with his gut-growling, forcing our fists into the air with his shrieks; the almighty Kenneth Ashman. A veteran of the SLO metal scene whose cred includes playing guitar in Halo of Gunfire, Ashman enjoys long treks up mountains, snuggling with his girlfriend, and annihilating eardrums.
On guitars we’ve got string slayers Mike Johnson and Matt Luman, both fully invested in generating crunchy, licky and catchy riffs that make your head bob whether you intended it to or not. Bass duties are performed with stoic fury by Steve Jenkins, and drummer Matt Marcum kicks double bass like it’s a joke. And sleeps with your mom. He’s probably still at the breakfast table; you’d better go check.
I spoke with Crytolith recently, and they kindly told me many metal secrets.
The Sauce Pot: Tell the uninitiated about your music.
Cryptolith: We’re CRYPTOLITH from San Luis Obispo. We make obscenely loud, fast, and distorted music for people who like to headbang. We wear earplugs during practice and named our band after a Magic: The Gathering card. We’ve played a handful of shows throughout the Central Coast, each with a mosh pit. We like dissonant chords, tremolos, split-time blast beats, and the occasional weird time signature.
Tell us a little more about your first release.
Our first EP was our first recording project as a group, and was an attempt at making an awesome metal release, created strictly in San Luis Obispo. Having collectively spent the majority of our lives living in SLO County, we take a lot of pride in our little town and wanted to show our community that our music scene is made up of more than just ‘folk singers at wineries.’ We have our rehearsal studio at Sauce Pot, and recording a few feet away in their beautiful, new studio was a no-brainer. We were really excited to work with Eric as the first metal project in the space. He did a killer job in making us sound like a real band!
We made some limited CDs (which are almost sold out) if you want to check out our older material. Grab a copy (and a shirt!) at cryptolith.com
What makes you write?
We’re a handful of creative people that don’t really fit into the pristine, shiny culture that SLO seems to brand itself as having. Wineries and gastropubs generally aren’t our scene, which means either spending our time at the local dive bar or at the studio writing nasty riffs that make our heads bang. We make ugly music for ugly people, just like us.
Where was your head back when you were writing the songs on this release?
Some of us were dealing with serious loss, which is where a lot of the lyrical content was coming from. Almost like writing letters to those that have either passed away or moved on from the times and places we had shared with them. We’re generally laid back, fun loving people, but being in a metal band gives us a healthy outlet to process the struggles we’ve each gone through. Musically, we didn’t have a concrete process in creating our songs… we just wrote riffs, kept what we liked, and called it a day.
I heard that you guys were doing some more writing…
You heard right! We’ve been rehearsing a ton of new material that we’re pretty sure our neighbors at the practice studio are sick of hearing.
How does this new material compare to the original release?
The first release was more about feeling each other out as bandmates and to decide on what sort of style we might want to continue on with. Each of us have wildly different tastes in metal, which shows in the first release that some might describe as either ‘diverse’ or maybe ‘all over the place.’ We threw a lot at the wall to see what stuck. How about a stoner metal riff with some thrash beats over it? Sure! Maybe a really long, droning interlude with John Carpenter samples over it? Why not?
The new material is less exploratory and falls more in line with having a heavier, more cohesive sound. We’ve found our individual strengths and are trying to bank on those skill sets when working on the new material. It follows a more distinct path and feels like it’s creating a stronger narrative around who we are as a collaborative group. We used a couple bands as specific touchstones to stick to more of a single style of metal; somewhere between melodic and technical thrash.
When do you think the new material will be released? Do you already know the album name?
We don’t really have a solid release frame or title in mind yet, as we’re still in pre-production for the release, but things will probably come to fruition some time in early 2020. We’re doing a ton of writing and refinement on each song and are hoping to have half a dozen tracks or so on the next release. We’ve incorporated a new process for writing including each of us contributing riffs, arranging as a group, recording songs and sequencing drums for demos, etc.. We aren’t really in a rush to release, and tend to ‘go with the flow’ in terms of pretty much everything we do as a band, including recording and releasing music.
Any plans, such as a release party or tour?
No details yet, but we’ll have more to share in time. We released our first EP at our first show in March of 2018, and are sure we’ll do something when the new one is ready.
Do you guys happen to have access to a sweet touring vehicle?
Are you offering us a ride? Because it definitely sounds like you’re offering to be a tour bus driver… If not, two of the guys in the band have giant trucks, and they might let the rest of us ride in back (if there’s enough room once we get all the drums in there).
What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a band so far?
The list of inside jokes within the band is long, so it’s hard to pick one particularly funny moment. We crack each other up all the time, but most recently, we’ve found a lot of joy in repeatedly playing NAPALM DEATH’s, You Suffer, on McCarthy’s jukebox. We’re almost positive that both the Irish bar’s staff and patrons love hearing a 3-second-long grindcore song a dozen or so times a night.
Which show that you’ve played sticks out the most to you and why?
We had the honor of opening for local legends, EXHUMED and DISGUSTED GEIST, last year at Manny’s in Paso Robles. It was our third show ever, and we didn’t even get booed off stage. No bottles were thrown in our direction, either. A true success, all around.
What do you want your fans to know about Cryptolith?
We’re just a group of friends that spend a few nights a week together making music, and are just a tiny part of the Central Coast’s metal scene; Believe it or not, there are a ton of really awesome metal bands in the SLO County area, each with a distinct style. If you’re into Thrash, you’ll probably dig our music. For lovers of Black Metal, check out AT DUSK. If you’re into Doom Metal, check out DISGUSTED GEIST. If you’re into Death Metal, check out EXHUMED. If you’re into Stoner Metal, check out STONE MOUNTAIN. The list goes on, but if you’re into metal at all, be sure to check out Hail Yourself! Metalzine for all-things-metal, local and otherwise.
By the way, I didn’t ask these dudes to shout out those other bands or that rad zine. That’s just how cool they are. Metal is like that. Yeah, there might be a bloody moshpit, but if you fall, there’s something like 3 pairs of hands on you, immediately pulling you back vertical. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve randomly crashed into within the pit, either on purpose or by accident, who, just before they shove me back into the twist and curl, actually pat me on the back, like I’m some long-lost friend, though we’ve never met. Somehow, they get it, either through my own body language, or some kind of metalhead telepathy, that I’m not out to crush their feet or sucker-punch their gut, I’m just pounding out the stress of life, and they were doing the same damn thing. And that is across multiple small towns as well as in big cities. Metalheads are fucking nice. They already got out all of their aggression, and now just want to hang out and write music, play video games, and have barbeques. It’s a good life.
Go look at cryptolith.bandcamp.com for good tunes, cool clothes and a better attitude. You’ll feel better in no time.