“Horrorscension” by Behold…The Arctopus

Monstah! Monstah! Boogie Woogie Woogie!

Behold the…what? Arctopus?! What the fuck is an “arctopus”? Nothing, thank you very much. Which is something may detractors of this rather strangely named math-metal band have said about their music.

I first discovered them on YouTube in a guitar workshop video entitled “Worst Band Ever.” It was a huge hit with my friends: two dudes, one on guitar and another on a WARR guitar played some of the most dissonant sounding “shred” music we’d ever heard in our lives. Every time the guitarist flew up the fret board for another Satriani wannabe moments, we’d tear up and laugh.

Naturally, being the inquisitive person that I am, I looked up their music a bit more. I watched a video on YouTube with a drummer: the drummer gave it a sense of structure that was missing in the previous video. The distortion on the guitar was thicker and it gave it a more menacing, alive edge.

Even more curious, I do some more research and find out that the band isn’t mindlessly jamming: instead, they actually compose their music (that is, write it down with pen and paper) far in advance and carefully arrange everything. There is actually NO sense of improvisation in their music once you give it a further listen. And (thank God) there are no vocals as I generally hate metal vocals.

So, while I was living in Detroit, I ended up picking up their two albums at the time “Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning” (a collection of two EP’s and live material) and “full length” (as in half an hour) debut “Skullgrid.” The art was awful: horror, metal-skull nonsense that made me semi-embarassed to own the albums.

As for the music on the albums…well, it’s of a piece. That is to say, Behold the Arctopus (hereafter known as either Behold or BTA) have a signature sound that infects each and every one of their songs: complex instrumental interplay that constantly shifts and rarely, if ever settles on a single riff; wild solos that sound like a free jazz genius forgetting all theory and letting his hair down; strangely melodic Warr-bass sections that show off some real composing skills; bash, crash, smash diddle diddle, wank wank zaweee woo!

“Nano-Nucleonic Whatever” was probably their best release for me as it had something approaching song structures, riffs and melodies. “Skullgrid” took the complexity to whole new levels and had moments of musicality but had more moments of seemingly pure chaos.

And then the drummer quit. So, after several years they found a new drummer and released a new album “Horrorscension” in 2012.

I know I’m not mentioning band member names (Mike Lerner on guitar, Colin Marston on Warr guitar and new comer “Weasel” Walter on drums) and this may seem an oversight but this is purposefully: this music is (for good and bad) the most personality free music I’ve ever heard.

That is to say, there is plenty of personality in the music (I’ve never heard anything that sounds like this but I’m sure it exists): it’s an exact mixture of modern classical, free jazz sounds and metal that either inspires instant fan hood or instant derision.

In spite of that, the band members themselves don’t really have any personality. Apparently, all members compose (Marston and Walter composing the ahem SONGS while Lerner composes his guitar solos and guitar parts) but I couldn’t tell you what a Colin Marston song sounds like as opposed to a Weasel Walter song. And Lerner’s guitar parts don’t betray a lot of his personality and sound nearly like a robot could have composed them.

Which is what makes this band (and this album) stand out to me: this could be robots simply playing composed music that their composition software tells them is “complex” and “hard core” though how a computer would measure “hard core” is beyond me.

“Horrorscension” continues the trend set by “Skullgrid” in that the music is more complex than before to a point of absolute absurdity. Some fans have complained that Walter is an inferior drummer to whoever their first drummer was (please don’t ask me to name names) but I don’t hear any huge difference: it’s all “bash bash bash” with cymbals being used and abused into oblivion.

The songs are even less “songs” than before: opening “Disintegore” sounds like a pure blast of complete improvisational fireworks that sets no mood, creates no tension and which gives even the toughest listener a headache.

Perhaps that’s the point of the song. If so, good job.

However, the band does have a few moments of actual musicality and interest. “Monolithic Destractions” (btw, these song titles are ridiculous and not misspelled, but obviously done tongue-in-cheek which makes me like the band a bit more) has an interesting repeated “stop and start” section that gives the manic playing some semblance of structure.

There are other moments that stand out but less so than even on “Skullgrid” which had moments that honestly sounded near genius level: this album sounds more like a band constantly spazzing out and while that does have some appeal to me, it’s much less than the more structured abandon of previous albums.

The last two pieces on the album (another short one at 30 minutes) actually take up just over a third of the album and are the best parts of the album. “Putrefucktion” (yuck) was apparently written by my mom, according to the liner notes (I doubt that) but is a very tight and very fast unison piece that sees the band playing a short burst of variations on a riff. Nothing special but it sounds planned and controlled as opposed to completely chaotic.

And the last song, the 10 minute “Annihilvore” (I really hate typing such stupid words) is easily the best song on the album with actually musical sounding riffs that maintain within the BTA style of instrumental spazzing while moving through several different sections logically and building to an actual climax in a relatively normal way.

Final verdict? While the “complete chaos” of most of the album is relatively interesting (when compared to more cookie cutter music in this style) it’s simply a bit too much for these ears and for most people in general. I actually feel that the album is simply less well written when compared to past albums and that the band’s sound and style simply got the better of them this time around.

Hopefully, the band will move in the direction suggested by “Annihilvore” and streamline JUST A LITTLE. Doubtful, as the band is no commercial prospect and is an “underground” group. Much more likely is that future work will just sit in the “chaosphere” (to quote Messhuggah) until nobody cares any more.

Songs to YouTube:

“Monolithic Destractions” to give you a bit of a feel for the “chaotic” nature of the album combined with a bit more structure than is typical for the album.

“Putrefucktion” for the mind boggling speed and tightness of the playing and for its relatively short nature.

“Annihilvore” for a taste of what the band could do if they stopped fucking around and composed a bit more tightly. Just a BIT: past albums show they have it in them.

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About Culture Fusion Reviews

A multi-effort web review periodical of varied cultural landmarks curated by Eric Benac: freelance writer, journalist, artist, musician, comedian, and 30-ish fellow caught in and trying to make sense of the slipstream of reality.

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