CRYPTEX: ""Once Upon A Time" was just the beginning"
The German proggers CRYPTEX caught my attention last year with their excellent new album “Once Upon a Time”, which was released in May 2020 via SPV/Steamhammer. The trio takes the listener on emotional and musical journeys, with high originality and amazing musicianship.
I had the great pleasure to chat with André Mertens about the band’s history, their music, and what a moth has to do with their newest effort:
Hey, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today. Could you please introduce yourself and CRYPTEX?
Hello, I am André-Jean-Henri Mertens and the guitarist of the band CRYPTEX. We are a progressive rock band from beautiful Northern Germany (Salzgitter/Hannover). Our singer's name is Simon Moskon, who founded the band in 2008. The line-up is completed by Marc Andrejkovits, who plays the bass.
Once upon a time... or how it all began: While singer Simon Moskon and drummer Ramon Fleig had played together in jam sessions since 2003, the band was formed in 2008 when Martin Linke joined them on guitar. With their EP “Even Nature Will be Thrilled” and high placements in newcomer competitions like Emergenza, they soon earned some well-deserved attention. The release of the debut album “Good Morning, How Did You Live” (2011) was followed by three great European tours, as well as several festival appearances.
During the works for the second album "Madeleine Effect", they decided to part ways, and came across Marc Andrejkvotis, who recorded the guitars for it. André joined them in August 2014, and a new drummer, Simon Schröder, was also found in the same period. As they were both studying music in Hannover at that time and already knew each other, they went to the audition together. In April 2015, "Madeleine Effect" was released worldwide and very well received. With the new line-up, they toured and toured again in promotion of the second album.
In 2018, Simon Schröder decided to focus on a career as live musician and left as official band member, but still plays shows with CRYPTEX, and also can be heard on their third album "Once Upon a Time". It was released worldwide in 2020 via SPV/Steamhammer and received high praise.
There's a lot of touring mentioned in your biography. With nearly 300 shows in the books so far, which were the most memorable for you?
Oh, there are a few! Speaking for myself, it's the "70.000 Tons of Metal" in Miami/Florida. That was the first time we flew to the USA as a band. We had two fantastic concerts on the ship, played there with countless other bands like Arch Enemy, Anthrax, Kamelot... During a stopover on the island of Labadee/Haiti in the Caribbean, we got an immense sunburn, but also enjoyed the beautiful sea.
The German "Kultrock Festival" in the “Balver Höhle” was another highlight. I think for Simon, the concert with Alice Cooper was a big eye-opener, as we played an arena show in front of over 10.000 fans. And of course the two European tours with Pain of Salvation and Threshold.
Let’s take a look at your band name: Where does it come from, and what is the idea behind it?
Our singer came up with the name. You know the term "Cryptex" from another context: It was shaped in Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci Code" as an encrypted object. Basically, it even fits us, as our music is not typical, uses many different styles and moods. In that sense, it's also a bit encrypted. We try to create something exciting which doesn't always match to the norm, and that's what appeals to us. Besides that, the name CRYPTEX has no deeper meaning.
There's a lot to discover in your music, as you mix up a variety of styles, experiment with different sounds, rhythms, and instruments. What are your main influences?
All these elements come from many different directions. Simon is a huge Beatles and Queen fan, but artists like Rammstein and Nick Cave are also very important to him. Marc is more into prog rock and bands like Porcupine Tree, Tool, King Crimson, Agent Fresco, or experimental artists like Bon Iver.
I listen to a lot of hard rock and metal, grew up with bands like Deep Purple and Iron Maiden. Ritchie Blackmore is the reason why I wanted to become a guitarist, and Iron Maiden is by far my main influence.
Pour all these bands together, and you get what I think is our very own CRYPTEX sound.
That's an interesting mix. When listening through your discography, it's great to hear how your music has constantly evolved. While the debut was straight forward and rocking, the second album "Madeleine Effect" developed already more in the prog direction, and a certain melancholy can be felt now. The songs on "Once Upon a Time" are even more complex and intense, but still accessible.
Each of these album is different to the previous, but nevertheless unmistakably CRYPTEX. What makes your sound so special, and what can you tell us about your writing process?
Thank you for your kind words. We always try to write the best songs possible, that don't bore ourselves and offer more than pure clichés. We don't want to sound like band A,B,C or D, but just like CRYPTEX. That’s why we are very stubborn and unconventional in our approach, but also very critical of ourselves. We always look ahead, not back, which I think is very important for an artist so you don't stand still.
Depending on our mood, a song can develop hard and go in the metal direction, but next time, it also can be smooth and balladic. Each one of us plays several instruments, and we all sing, so the polyphonic vocals are an important element in our music. As fans of orchestral harmonies, we try to incorporate that too.
In the past, Simon composed and arranged most of the songs completely on his own. “Once Upon a Time” was the first album we wrote together, a novelty for all of us. Some of the tracks were written by Simon and me, which was very exciting, because I usually compose alone as well. But we noticed what awesome things can arise out of this, and I added some heaviness to the music. Marc also contributed great ideas, so this was the first real band album created in complete collaboration.
We are already working on a new one, and the songwriting is even more complex. I can tell you that “Once Upon a Time” was just the beginning.
That’s awesome, and I'm looking forward to hear what you're working on! Let’s dive a bit deeper into "Once Upon A Time": The title suggests a kind of fairytale theme. Where does the moth on the album cover come from? And how does the name reflect the songs?
We think a lot about time and experiences, that each one of us has. And that's basically what we want to trigger in people with “Once Upon a Time”. When we composed the title track, we had the name in mind straight away. In many aspects, it reflects the soul life from all of us and is very biographical.
One day, we saw a moth hanging from the ceiling in our rehearsal room, and a fantastic photographer, Merlin Schönfisch, who is a friend of ours, caught the animal perfectly and phenomenally. Simon Moskon had the idea to photograph the moth with black light. That's how, in my opinion, this totally crazy motive was created, and which was cast into shape by the designer and artist Jonathan Noor afterwards.
To a certain extent, the moth stands for transience and metamorphosis, which fits well with the theme and mood of the album.
It's an amazing piece of art, indeed, and I like how it shows a certain beauty where we normally wouldn't expect it at first sight. But it seems as you have a great sense for the visual in general. With the stunning video for "Bloodmoon", you tell the sad story of two trapper brothers. How did you come up with this rather unusual idea? And how was the video shoot for you?
The shooting was very exhausting, but also really great. Filming with real wolves had something majestic that we will never forget. The various locations matched perfectly to everything. We had a lot of equipment with us and were exposed to all kinds of weather. Working for 15 hours on each of the 3 filming days, we really gave everything.
The idea was to create a fictional story out of the personal, toxic/tragic experiences of Simon Moskon, which depicts the essence of what he actually experienced in a private environment in an abstracted, intellectual, artistic, and romanticised way.
Let’s head over to another topic: Germany is mainly known for classic heavy metal, and some big names come to mind for sure. But of course the musical landscape is way more diverse, with representatives from all genres. How active is the rock / metal scene in your area, and has it changed over the years? Did you notice differences while touring through Europe and the USA?
Yes, definitely. The music scene is constantly evolving, and there are changes in this business every year. Above all, the streaming market is actually destroying the possibility for every aspiring musician to really make a living from their music. On the other hand, it is of course a chance to reach a large audience through playlists.
As far as the live scene is concerned, it has become more and more difficult in the recent years. There are many clubs and bands around here, everyone wants to play, but with only few people who really support new acts. Unfortunately, the market is oversaturated, and people often rather want to spend 100 € on their favourite stadium band than check out great new acts.
That's the reality, but it's no reason to give up. You have to be on your toes and work hard, keep writing songs, and above all be well positioned online with videos and fan interaction.
It also feels like there are countries where live music culture has a different status. France for example, where everyone in the audience really goes crazy in a positive way. In the USA, the response on our shows was very good as well.
How did you make it through the pandemic so far? What impact had it on you as a band?
The pandemic hits every artist very hard, no matter if it's a famous band or a small solo artist. Basically, we are deprived of the opportunity to do our job. We understand all the measures, and health is most important, but the consequence will be that many clubs and promoters won't be around when the pandemic is over, as everyone knows our industry is not considered systemically relevant. The event industry is one of the biggest economic sectors in Germany, but it doesn't get the attention and help it deserves.
With the release of the new album, we hoped to play many concerts, but this wasn't possible due to the well known reasons. That affects every musician and the whole business.
Fortunately, we were able to release our record worldwide in May as planned. The response was and is still great, we have achieved much more coverage through the structures of SPV/Steamhammer, got great specials, interviews and everything, and are therefore at least one step further than before.
At the moment, we are using the time to write new songs and produce good online content, which will be published in the upcoming weeks and months. So stay tuned and keep an eye on our social media channels :-)
So it seems as a lot is cooking right now. How about your plans for the future?
As the new songs are in good progress already, we want to release our new album in 2022, and are working hard on it. Apart from that, we want to play live again as soon as possible.
The next album will be even more intense and multi-layered than "Once Upon a Time". Marc is now on board as another songwriter, so we have three strong composers who are competing to write, and I can promise you as already mentioned: "Once Upon a Time" was just the beginning.
Sounds highly promising :-) Is there anything else you would like to add here?
Support every band you love, big or small, especially during times like this. And if you like our music, buy our albums and merch, stream our music, and check us out on Facebook or Instagram, we look forward to see you there!
Thanks again for your time and answering my questions. All the best for you and your musical plans, stay safe and rock on \m/
I can only give that back. Thank you for the support, the great questions, and all the best for you too.