Reviewing music is a tough gig; let no-one tell you any different. To try and sum up the impact of a particular album and explain the emotions that it pulls from the listener swings from bland simplicity (say, a pop album that was manufactured from beginning to end based on what “the kids” want that particular week, devoid of any real emotion or meaning) to “how the hell do I explain the sheer genius of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica album when no other human could possibly do so?!.” Behold The Arctopus, regardless of the release, falls head-first into the latter category. A lot. So bear with me here.
The maniac brainchild of highly talented guitarists/mad scientists Colin Marston (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, Krallice, et al) and Mike Lerner, the band is an instrumental, avant-garde project that refuses to be pigeon-holed or judged within our mortal realm. Their recorded output over the past 19 years has divided fans and critics alike, with one camp convinced that the music is not even music but an upheaval of atonal noise and the other hailing the group as the future of extreme music (a clash that has similarly dogged the avant-garde movement from its inception, naturally). On a base level, they could loosely be described as technical progressive metal, but even for fans of such adventurous music, Behold The Arctopus tends to shock and surprise. To even refer to them as ‘metal’ is a bit of a stretch, as they avoid the obvious riffage and pounding fury that is the basis of the genre (they do, however, retain the heaviness), but it is possibly the closest descriptor when absolutely needed.
Relying only on two guitars and drums/percussion, the additional space is filled by the extremities of Marston’s Warr guitar (a monstrous instrument that has the range of guitar and bass) and an ever-present oppressive atmosphere that often evokes early Voivod. Jason Bauers of Psyopus fame is the newest member of the band, and he has changed the purpose of the drums in the trio from merely a percussive skeleton to a fully-involved instrument that wears many, many hats, and his inclusion has taken them to an even more otherworldly level.
Hapeleptic Overtrove isn’t a vast departure from previous albums, but it is the least ‘metal’ release overall and quite possibly the most progressive due in part to the performance from Bauers. All cymbals have been removed from the palette altogether and replaced by almglocken, wooden plank, metal pipe, broken stacks, and bells and chimes, with traditional drumsticks thrown into the shadowy corner in favour of mallets. There are no beats or natural rhythms, leaving Bauers open to utilise his talents to create melody and vibrancy with the percussion, very much as the guitars do. The inspiration for this album comes from 20th-century avant-garde composers and bloodthirsty chamber music, which gives the feeling that the band have finally found their sound as it was meant to be heard.
“Blessing In Disgust” and “Other Realms” stray the closest to heavy metal DNA, but only on the very surface as there is a lot more going on deep within. All of the songs on here totally defy standard song structure and Western popular music (there is no hint whatsoever of a blues heritage), and structure, in fact, remains a very loose concept. From an outsider’s perspective, the music here might well sound like a bunch of kitchen implements being thrown about a tiled floor with gay abandon, but with repeated listens and with a completely fresh ear, there is genuine emotion and delightful proggy interplay that expose the fierce talent of the three musicians as one unit, and there is a uniqueness about them that cannot be denied. Short bursts of manic guitar shred jump out of the mist from time to time (“Other Realms” again), only to creep back and be sucked into the audio vortex of what can be described as pure, free jazz of the highest order. There is also an intensity that tends to build up in almost all of the nine compositions that is stretched and pulled in every direction until the listener is either released into the ether or swallowed back into the murky depths, both of which are a heightened experience.
Look, it’s not for everybody – hell, even seasoned visitors to the avant-garde universe might balk at this half-hour of mental barrage – but that’s what makes the band who they are. No party DJ has ever considered Behold The Arctopus as the next track to fill the dance-floor, and the group should see that as a compliment. They have had every kind of expletive known to man thrown at them and have still never strayed from their artistic path, and therein lies the beauty in Hapeleptic Overtrove. This is extreme music made without boundaries or convention that tests everything that we have been taught as music listeners, throwing caution to the proverbial wind to push us into uncomfortable spaces that we might never have even considered before. It’s a brave, unbiased record that will test you and pull you into the music, and it deserves to be experienced.
Hapeleptic Overtrove Track Listing:
2. Adult Contemporary
3. Telepathy Apathy
4. Blessing In Disgust
5. Forgotten Explanations
6. Other Realms
7. Perverse. Esoteric. Different.
8. Hapeleptic Perspective Respect
9. Quithtion Overtrove
Run Time: 31 minutes
Release Date: June 12, 2020
Record Label: Willowtip Records / P2