By Andrew Lentz Originally published in DRUM! Magazine’s August 2008 Issue
There is a disconnect when first laying eyes on Flo Mounier, drummer for Montreal’s extreme-metal sickos Cryptopsy. Who on record comes across as a steroidal thug mercilessly battering every surface of his kit is in reality a clean-cut, sensible father. Maybe it’s the faux hawk, which looks more Warped Tour than Wacken Festival. Another disconnect is that he is downright sweet and soft-spoken, with only a hint of a Canadian accent and no trace of his native French one.
Monsieur Mounier also possesses a strong sense of legacy: When his son, three-year-old Louis, is heard banging around with toy cars nearby, I jokingly ask if he play drums too. “Of course,” says Dad, adding that Pearl Canada is building him a miniature kit. Can’t you just see father and son killing it side by side?
Cryptopsy is an impossibly athletic band whose tensile strength and technical intricacy makes their peers look lazy. On the band’s new release, The Unspoken King, no sooner do you hit Play, than you’re slapped upside the head with the 315-bpm blast of “Worship Your Demons,” a two-minute stretch of barely controlled psychosis. Mounier isn’t quick — he’s so f’in fast it’s comical. So just what is your bpm record, dude? “I have no idea,” he laughs. “I think groove and the touch and feel of the drums is a lot more important.”
A better question is: Why is Cryptopsy cursed in the vocal department? “I’ll be very honest with you,” Mounier says in a conspiratorial whisper. “In this kind of music, you either got to be crazy to stick through it the full time or … something. It’s not a money-making venture. There are decisions in life that some people take and family’s involved.” Former singer Mike DiSalvo, whose wildebeest bray made earlier Cryptopsy releases Whisper Supremacy and …And Then You’ll Beg such a larynx-searing treat, dropped out for those same reasons.
“English was a problem for some other singers,” he continues. At least that’s what the band learned after Martin LaCroix joined up. “If we wanted to do something more articulate, the Québecois accent was really coming through and it was kind of unpleasant. And, like, his lyrics were kind of weak because we’ve always tried to keep the band English and we don’t want to start singing in French.” (Check out LaCroix bantering en français for the hometown crowd on None So Live.)
Vocal issues dogged the band as late as 2005’s Once Was Not, featuring original singer Lord Worm, who departed the band more than a year ago. “He’s been a good friend of mine for the past 17 years, and we decided to give it a go, but for this latest one his vocals wouldn’t have been up to par as far as what we wanted to do rhythmically. We wanted to have more structured vocals and, of course, some clean vocals.” Last summer, the band recruited its fifth singer, Matt McGachy.
The Unspoken King takes Cryptopsy’s algorithmic death-grind into new places. For the first time there are keyboards and double-tracked vocals for a deliciously layered effect that, at its most polarized, crisscrosses a warm baritone with cries of bloody murder. Having guitarist Chris Donaldson produce and mix could explain why the accessible-yet-vicious package coheres so well. Even more than usual, the pummeling of Mounier is differentiated and tastily insidious — a miracle considering how little space there is with which to work.
Although he would never put it in so many words, Mounier is Cryptopsy’s unofficial leader. He is neither a guitarist nor a singer, but he is a surprisingly melodic thinker. “I wrote that catchy one,” he says with evident pride, referring to Unspoken track “The Plagued.” “I either hum them, or what I do is piece everything together when people bring their ideas, and bridge everything so it’s nice and smooth, and come up with other ideas on the spot. But it’s more of a group effort for sure.”
Despite Mounier’s status in the extreme-metal scene, his drumming career didn’t exactly get off to a promising start. As a six-year-old back in the French village of his early childhood, he took lessons from a priggish instructor who soured him on the instrument almost immediately. “I took one lesson and I quit,” he says. “The teacher was incredibly dull and not motivating whatsoever.”
Mounier would be a teenager before he sat on the throne again, after the family moved to Chicago. It was not so much a dream deferred as it was an accident. “I tried guitar, then saxophone,” he says of the period when he practically forgot the drums. “There was a school band that had all these instruments laid out for kids and they’re like, ‘What do you want to play?’ There was a snare there and I started hitting that. I was like, ‘Yep, this is what I want to do.’” A year later, his dad bought him an ancient Slingerland kit that was in poor shape, helping young Flo to reassemble and paint it. At this point, playing drums was still a recreational activity, with the odd lesson here and there.
It wasn’t until Mounier moved to Québec in his late teens that things started getting serious. He played with different bands, first with Decay and then Necrosis, which would form the basis for Cryptopsy. “They had a drummer originally who I guess wasn’t cutting it for them,” he says. “We tried to change the style of the band because death metal was becoming a little bit more popular, and that’s the avenue we wanted to go because that’s what we were all listening to.”
As far as drumming influences, Flo drew from both the usual and not-so-usual suspects. “Mikkey Dee was just blazing,” he says of the drummer for the rock opera-styled King Diamond. “Then I went to [Canadian metal chameleons] Voivod, Slayer, and then when I joined Necrosis they introduced me to Napalm Death, Pestilence, Suffocation, and stuff like that. We were all influenced by those kinds of styles — and since we had the potential to do it — to go for something that heavy.” With one crucial difference: “To one-up it and go a little bit faster than the rest, I guess, because we were able to. Speed was easy for me.”
Besides the Extreme Metal Drumming 101 DVD he released in 2007, Mounier is locally celebrated for his drum clinics, which generally consist of him playing along to a few Cryptopsy tracks, an extended solo, techniques, and of course, a Q&A session. “I actually get lot of great questions from people who aren’t into metal, who just want to develop their speed. It makes things easier, because when you do have speed it facilitates a lot of different things that you can do in jazz or in rock or in Latin or in anything else.”
A double bass drum lifer, Mounier once entertained the idea of a single-bass/double pedal setup in the interests of loading ease and saving space. “I always kind of wanted to go to one bass drum to facilitate things, but my drum tech was like, ‘No, you can’t do that!’ he recalls. “He likes the look of two bass drums.” As far as the foot ergonomics of an offset pedal, which purists claim is not as effective as the classic “two bass drums/two pedals” configuration, Mounier says it was not an issue. “It does feel a little bit different, but it’s just a matter of getting used to it. I’d say, tops, it takes like, a week, week and a half.”
Metal styles have historically varied according to geography: death metal in South Florida; “tough guy” hardcore on the East Coast; thrash in the San Francisco Bay Area, and so on. But for those who want a true metal paradise, Mounier encourages them to visit Montreal. “I think it’s the biggest metal scene in North America, hands down,” he says. “I’m not at all saying this because I’m from here. Metal shows are always packed, and when I’m talking packed I’m talking a difference of 50- to 60-percent more people than other cities around North America.”
Mounier theorizes that Montreal’s contradictions (bilingual yet provincial, cosmopolitan yet Catholic and conservative) somehow fuel the city’s aggressive music scene. “Beyond that I could say it’s the water. Really I have no idea. A lot of people when they grow up feel a little alienated and, you know, metal is a music where kids growing up want to listen to it because it’s a little rebellious.”
Mounier can’t speak for all the bands in the Great White North, but he does say semi-seriously that Cryptopsy is a collective response to their frosty environs. “That’s how I introduced us before jumping into a set at one show,” he says. “I was like, ‘Hi, we’re from Canada, and this is how we keep warm.”
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