It’s no secret that I am a gigantic fan of anything involving Colin Marston. From his more well know tenures in bands like Gorguts, Krallice and Dysrythmia to engineering, mixing and mastering some of my favorite albums, I genuinely believe there’s nothing he can’t do. My fascination with Martson began when I first heard Behold…the Arctopus like 15 years ago, and for a long time I simply knew him as “the Warr Guitar guy.” On Hapeleptic Overtrove, Marston picks the Warr guitar back up, but this album is anything but the usual business, as if there was such a thing.
Genuinely referred to by some as “the worst band in the world” (a label the band has affectionately co-opted for promotional use), Behold…the Arctopus have always been known for pushing the boundaries of metal, sometimes to an alienating degree. There has never been anything conventional about the way the band comes up with its atonal, dissonant, seemingly structureless songs that mix electric guitar, Warr guitar (a fourteen-stringed monstrosity that covers the range of guitar and bass and is played by two-handed tapping) and drums. While the temptation to refer to what the band does as “noise” or even “free-jazz” is there, every single note of every song, no matter how out of place it may seem, is written out before the band records. Like them or not, these are conscious compositions, and every aesthetic choice the band makes is deliberate. On Hapeleptic Overtrove, the most forward-thinking and unconventional choice they make is to remove all hi-hats, crashes and ride cymbals from new member and former Psyopus drummer Jason Bauers’ drum kit, replacing them with wood blocks, metal pipes, almglocken, and bells. This setup allowed the band to change the role of the drums from keeping time to being another melodic voice that compliments Marston’s Warr Guitar and Mike Lerner’s “Guitar Guitar.” It’s a bold choice for the band, but the end result is something that sounds more compositional overall, once you get over the initial shock factor. Bauers has a lot of previous experience with unconventional percussion setups, and it pretty perfectly gels with what Marston and Lerner have been doing since the early 2000’s. Behold…the Arctopus have never been the kind of band to sit back and let boundaries stay what they are, and Hapeleptic Overtrove sees the band reach outside even their notoriously loosely-defined comfort zone and create an album that is extreme in every sense of the word.
How the hell do you even begin to describe what a Behold…the Arctopus song sounds like?! Cuts like “Telepathy Apathy” and “Hapeleptic Perspective Respect” eschew any melodic sensibility in favor of angular, dissonant tapping lines and alternating bursts of frenetic speed and slow, jarring ringing notes echoed by the percussion. For my taste, it’s not unpleasant (quite the opposite), and while it’s unconventional to say the least, with an open mind, you really do get the sense that the band is purposeful with their choice of notes and textures. Do the wood blocks and metal pipes sometimes sound like the Foley work on a Looney Tunes cartoon, like I’m about to watch Wile E. Coyote get an ACME-brand one-ton anvil dropped on his head? Yes. Do I care? No. I think that the step the band has taken with the percussion on this album is the most logical step they could take. They want to make music that is extreme, that is their ethos. When the rest of the band is already so highly unconventional, it just makes sense to completely rework the purpose and execution of the drums, and it opens the songs up in a way that gives Marston and Lerner even more freedom and space to play in.
The percussion work particularly shines on the surprisingly heavy and chuggy “Blessing in Disgust,” where pounding toms are interspersed with clanging metal that echoes when the guitars go from heavy riffing to spastic tapping runs. The initial angular run at the beginning of “Forgotten Explanations” is also perfectly accompanied and complimented by wood block hits and dramatic cowbell rolls. “Forgotten Explanations” opens up very nicely in the middle section, showing what the band can do with harmonized tapping lines to create an eerie sense of atmosphere and unease before jumping into the next track, the aptly named “Other Realms (Instrumental),” which features a moment of genuine melodicism in the harmonies and counterpoints Lerner and Marston tap out on their respective instruments. Approach this album with an open mind and you’ll find that the skill of each individual performer shines through, as well as the way the band blends the unconventional into a cohesive, almost baroque unit.
Colin Marston has had the pleasure of playing and working with some of the best of the best (as far as I’m concerned) in the music scene today, and while Behold…the Arctopus doesn’t get as much recognition as Gorguts or Krallice (at least, not as much positive recognition), I believe they deserve to be talked about at the forefront of what makes extreme music great. They’re pushing the boundaries of metal in a way that goes beyond adding more lower strings or raising the BPM on the blast beats or grunting deeper about more grotesque subject matter. They’re redefining the genre itself, and even the individual instruments within the genre. If you’re at all curious, give this a shot and you just might be surprised by how much depth there is here.