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Warning: The Arctopus may take your sanity,
This review is from: Skullgrid (Audio CD)
With "Skullgrid," New York-based band Behold . . . the Arctopus take tech metal to its furthest extreme. Unencumbered by vocals or conventional notions of melody and structure, BtA create one of the most maddeningly dense and chaotic metal albums ever, leaving landmark works like "Calculating Infinity" and "Obscura" completely in the dust. Compositions swirl, the instruments seemingly chasing one another, moving from unison to harmony to call and response to counterpoint spontaneously, running down blind alleys, turning back without warning, without much repetition or obvious sense. Clocking in at not much over half an hour, this metallic jazz explosion refuses to slow down, to back down, to give the listener any quarter. In short, it is awesome, in both senses.
If you're even reading this you probably already know of BtA unconventional use of a Warr guitar to go with the usual electric guitar and drum kit. This combo gives them a unique sound beyond their unusual compositions, with even the lower end of the Warr being brighter and vaguely futuristic sounding when compared to a bass, and the absence of vox/regular bass gives the mix more room to breathe. Though they, of course, don't limit themselves to the one Warr and electric, the songwriting works substantially on the interplay between Marston's Warr and Lerner's electric, with phrases bouncing back forth, being picked up and completed in an interplay so dense few metal duos would even fantasize about attempting it. That said, Charlie Zeleny's drumming is perhaps the most striking element. While tech metal drummers often have an enormous amount of musical ability to go with a by the book style, Zeleny is truly a one of a kind. This is partially the production--"Skullgrid" has unquestionably the most explosive drum sound I've ever heard. (The snare is simply apocalyptic.) When Marston and Lerner slow it down a bit, Zeleny can almost be guaranteed to still lay out a cacophonous din of death metal blasting or fusionesque snare abuse. He is simply devastating, though he has, sadly, left the band now.
Perhaps most notably, BtA still manage some surprisingly varied songwriting. After the mindbogglingly elaborate throat clearing that is the title track, BtA launch into "Canada," the most accessible comp here, for what that's worth, with a surprisingly pretty, chiming middle section interrupting the jerking madness that dominates the track. Conversely "Of Cursed Womb" is perhaps the least accessible track, with a repeated lead fingering exercise contrasting some of the most percussive, pulverizing rhythm work, while "Scepters" provides the purest, heaviest metallic aggression on the album. While they aren't much for melody, BtA do have a sense for atmospherics. Oddball epic "You Are Number Six" cuts down on the pure technicality to present a mix of Neurosis-style post metal and Weakling-esque epic BM before guitar lunatic Mick Barr throws in 30 notes a second solo in the frenetic final minutes. In somewhat the same vein, "Some Mist" centers on a mass of chiming, reverberating notes that create a truly unsettling mood before launching into typically labyrinthine, maddening jazz-metal licks. And then you have the semi-epic closer "Transient Exuberance," which manages to combine pretty much all of the above. Every track truly does have a distinct personality, even if all falls somewhere on the "manical cacophony" region of the musical spectrum.
"Skullgrid," of course, has a fairly specialized audience, and even many tech fans may conclude that they take things too far. This was, perhaps, my initial reaction--when I first listened to this about 2 ˝ years ago I was pretty intrigued, but wasn't sure how well it would hold up. Would, once the novelty wore off, the songs ever actually sink in? For me they did, and I'm somewhat surprised to say that I now find this to be among my favorite tech-metal albums. At the very least, every techhead owes it to himself (definitely himself) to give this at least one listen, to see what their limit is. Cause if they have one, this probably crosses it.