I have been enamoured by the band Behold… The Arctopus (BTA) since I first heard them in the mid-2000s. It is one of the acts that has burnt a sound into my brain as to what technical music should sound like. This three-piece from Brooklyn, New York has once again released a record that is the peak of musical prowess yet manages to still have heart and present beauty in musical form like no other act I know. I speak often of music being progressive and generally, that means that bands mess around with time signatures, have unconventional song structures, or move through multiple genres; however, when I say BTA is progressive it is in the most extreme sense of the word. The band is catatonically manic in sound, the music often like a cacophony of notes whirling by at speeds not yet known to man, though when the music finally solidifies into something vaguely resembling conventional popular music, it shows a mastery of harmonic knowledge beyond the average human.
Hapeleptic Overtrove has a decidedly metal quality to it though not sticking too solidly to any one sub-genre. There are hints of death metal, thrash, and heavy metal but also a strong 20th-century, classical music influence. For those who are unsure of what that means, it means all of the weirdest sounding classical music out there (more or less). One of the band’s commonly cited influences, Arnold Schönberg, is mostly known for his twelve-tone musical method whereby all sense of key or “home” is eliminated by never repeating any notes. The result is both interesting and confusing, check it out for yourself. This combination of influences is mesmerising and is something not of this world.
BTA is comprised of members Colin Marston and Mike Lerner, the former performs the music on the magnificent Warr Guitar (an up to 14-string bass-guitar, hybrid-monster that is commonly used in combination with tapping techniques) as well as a bass guitar, while the latter plays a boring old normal sized guitar. Both musicians are what peak musical performance should sound like and if, as a musician, I ever came close to a portion of their skill level I would consider my training complete. The drummer on the latest record is Jason Bauers, a new addition to the band yet is no less proficient at his craft.
With all that info out the way let’s dive into the record. BTA has a way of playing with dynamics and tone like no other metal act out there. The record moves from clean, languid atonal bends to a myriad of chromatic passages that fly by in polyrhythms before you can even process what is happening. Unlike a lot of technical bands however, they have the occasional touch of serene and beautiful tapped passages that both break up the chaos and also warm you from the inside out. They are not scared to strip it down and play something simple and moving and that is one of the qualities I appreciate most about this band. Musically this album has one more interesting touch and that is that all the traditional drum tones of the kick drum, snare, toms, etc. have been replaced with orchestral percussion, namely: “almglocken, wooden plank, metal pipe, broken stacks, and bell/chimes. Sticks are replaced by mallets.” The band also states in the liner notes of the album that the drums are not intended to play “beats” in the traditional sense but to move away from a traditional rock sound and closer to chamber music. I personally find this change refreshing and it gives the record a unique timbre.
The album kicks off hard with all the atonality that has come to be known as the hallmark of BTA, however, the new percussive sounds are a welcome addition. The track is over before it even begins and clocks in at precisely twenty-nine seconds. Next up is “Adult Contemporary”, which has to be one of my favourites of the release. The intro has a neo-classical flavour to it but soon becomes much darker and chromatic. The music is awash of texture with both guitarists tapping, the quality of the sound flowing smoothly between light and dark, inexorably forging forward until the track’s abrupt end.
The piece following it has a comical yet menacing aura. “Telepathy Apathy” is like a drunk super-human with telepathic abilities falling around his room while absent-mindedly moving objects around. Every accent is a stumble as he half floats to his bed with his feet dragging on the floor. This is succeeded by “Blessing In Disgust”, which follows the telepath’s subsequent nightmares and violent hangover.
“Other Realms” is a contender for my favourite track along with “Adult Contemporary”, however, due to the longer format of “Other Realms”, it might take the top slot. We are once again presented with indefinable tonality rises like some Modernist wave, but halfway through the song, the ultimate climax occurs. Disgustingly distorted held chords, frantic passages, and insane solos give way to a curtain of tranquillity and in this instant, I feel transported to this ‘other realm’. My sense of self dissolves into black matter as I drift into the endless, unknowing beyond.
There are not many more words I can use to describe this album without beginning to sound repetitive so I will just end with this. Do not miss this album. At first it may feel overwhelming, but give it time. It will grow on you like some astral tumour that both grants you magical powers but also shows you the end of time.
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