Some albums feel specifically designed to propel music forward. Like their very existence is intended to challenge listeners’ notions about what music is, what it can and/or should accomplish, and how we can expect to consume and enjoy it. Extreme metal, perhaps more than any other genre in any medium in popular culture, has been releasing content that has pushed the envelope of taste and popular acceptability for several decades. It receives some of the most ardent support and deep-seated hatred of any space of the musical world, and although subgenres like thrash, nu-metal, and metalcore have brought this music to a wider global audience, the fervor surrounding its abrasive style and often questionable (and highly misunderstood) content has yet to abate and is unlikely to anytime soon. Metal is weird, has always been weird, and will continue to be weird into the foreseeable future. And Colin Marston and Behold… The Arctopus just keep making things weirder.
There are a multitude of bands that fit into the above described category of subversive boundary-pushing intensity. Off the top of my head, I think of Imperial Triumphant, Pyrrhon, Liturgy, Gorguts, Krallice, Dysrhythmia, and the aforementioned Behold… The Arctopus as perennial mind-benders whose music is as uncategorizable as it is awesome. One unifying factor that each of these bands share is the membership in some capacity of Colin Marston. The man who, as far as I’m concerned, can do no wrong when it comes to making aggressively experimental music. As a guitarist, bassist, and producer, everything the man touches brims with clarity, creativity, and a hefty amount of button-pushing charisma. His high reputation of quality contribution sees no diminishment in Behold… the Arctopus’ latest full-length record Hapeleptic Overtrove. This is an absolute doozy of uncategorizable avant-garde extreme music (though death metal is probably the closest comparison) that comes across as something closer to a hellish symphony than anything resembling a traditional death metal record. It’s abrasive, it’s insane, and yes… it’s amazing.
For those unfamiliar with the band’s previous work, describing the music of Behold… the Arctopus is a tougher task than I am accustomed to relating. But comparison is the name of the game, so let’s get to it. In my estimation, if you can imagine a group of musicians taking elements of all of the above bands (the playfulness of Imperial Triumphant, the ear-shattering bursts of Pyrrhon, the technical wizardry of Gorguts, and the off-putting strangeness of Liturgy) and throwing them into a blender with a suped-up motor on overdrive, you could probably come close to grasping what Behold… the Arctopus sounds like. Hapeleptic Overtrove delivers exactly what fans have come to expect from the band, with more than a few interesting twists to their standard (HAHA) formula. It’s an album filled with wild ideas that feel unexpectedly ordered, intentional, and something like the band’s most interesting and accomplished work to date.
Sub-30-second opener “Quithtion” is worth mentioning as we dive into this record’s music specifically because it feels like a half-minute fuck you to anyone who wanted this group to be less experimental or abrasive. It’s a wacky opening that only barely prepares listeners for the insanity to come, and lifts a firm barrier to entry for casual music listeners. But Behold… the Arctopus have never been about casual, and the rest of Hapeleptic Overtrove displays that sentiment clearly and with great enthusiasm. “Adult Contemporary” puts the direction of their latest record on full display with relentlessly interesting guitar work from Mike Learner and Marston, who create a spiralling, interwoven sequence of notes that’s as dizzying as it is oddly catchy. Their work here and throughout the record is absolutely fantastic, rushing over our brains like the tentacles of some malnourished sea creature driven to frenzied madness. These performances are also delivered through a delightful mix that cuts almost every ounce of static and feedback from these instruments, allowing each abrasive note to ring true within the maelstrom.
But these legendary musicians’ stringed pyrotechnics are overshadowed, and in some cases completely consumed, by the utterly mesmerizing drum work of Jason Bauers. Holy shit is this performance outstanding. Drawing on the influence of free jazz drummer Tony Oxley and the percussive compositions of 20th Century greats like Edgard Varese and Iannis Xenakis, Bauers’ playing feels more like a third stringed instrument than a percussive device. In one of the more unique drum performances I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in some time, Bauers absolutely takes over “Blessing In Disgust” and “Hapeleptic Perspective Respect” with performances that are as varied and excellent as you will hear all year. The percussion on this record doesn’t honestly feel like percussion at all, but rather an equally melodic instrument that allows the music to jump beyond using the kit as a simple beat-making tool and instead utilize it in a manner that makes this music feel fully vibrant and alive in a way that few other bands achieve. It’s an absolute highlight of the record, and an element that helps the album ascend to stratospheric heights.
If any of the above sounds even remotely intriguing, I heartily recommend that you give Hapeleptic Overtrove your undivided attention upon its release. There isn’t another metal record I’ve heard this year that can be compared to it, and if we’re counting points for uniqueness Behold… the Arctopus may have just dropped the record of the year. But this band has a lot more to offer than just sounding different than its peers. Behold… the Arctopus are a band swimming mightily against the current of mainstream music, attempting to create something that is new, accomplished, and exciting to listen to. It is, in a way, experimentation for its own sake. But rather than using that as a pejorative, I think such an approach to extreme music is refreshing and much needed, and on a philosophical level I applaud Hapeleptic Overtrove for what it strives to accomplish. But experimentation is only as meaningful as its creators make it, and these musicians are as talented and capable as they come. From top-to-bottom, this is a stunning display of compositional creativity and musicianship that belongs in any conversation that claims metal as a genre is dead. If Behold… the Arctopus have anything to do with it, metal will continue to flourish as a haven for some of the world’s most unique and experimental voices, and music will continue to be all the better for it.
Hapeleptic Overtrove drops June 12 via Willowtip Records.