HORRORSCENSION: BEHOLD THE ARCTOPUS DROP THE “…”, LEAVE IN THE “???”
A friend of mine has a great philosophy toward Necrophagist’s live show (that will probably anger most of you): once you’ve seen them live once, you’ve pretty much seen them live every time they come around. And I thought he was nuts right before I saw them a second time, where they played a near carbon copy of the same set from the first time through. Behold the Arctopus have had a similar problem: once you’ve heard one BtA song, you’ve heard any of them. And I want to say that’s different on Horrorscension, their latest, but… the same “problem” still remains. But the difference between their issue and Necrophagist’s is that BtA appear to be aware of it. The album clocks in at around 28 minutes, and its longest song—which takes up more than a third of the album—has an interesting arc to it. So while Behold the Arctopus are far more interesting on a song-by-song basis, at the very least, they make an album’s worth of well-orchestrated chaos a pretty painless experience.
Those familiar with the band even in passing are aware of their Achilles’ heel: what makes them the most interesting is what makes them ultimately hard to digest. Their technical jazz fusion-grind is fascinating and enthralling for about 5-6 minutes, but its noodly, formless nature makes songs almost impossible to tell apart, anything noteworthy lost in a sea of Warr guitar noodling and tight, impressive drumming. The band have grown a little in the five years since they’ve released an album (presumably why they dropped the ellipsis from their name), to which Horrorscension’s most fascinating attribute can be credited: amidst the harsh, challenging cloud of classically-trained musician jerkoffery, there are textures. Even little tweaks — like the synths under the soloing on “Horrorsentience” or the prog-thrash of “Deluge of Sores”— make more of what the band do stick. Not that I’m arguing that Behold the Arctopus need to hire a vocalist and start writing songs about said hypothetical vocalist’s dead mother via an allegory loosely based on Oedipus Rex; being intangible is part of what they do. But whereas just hearing the band’s name can give you an idea of what you’re about to hear, Horrorscension at least packs in enough surprises to have something memorable under the 15-string guitar tapping.
The most noteworthy part, as alluded to earlier, is the 10 ½ minute “Anihilvore,” an interesting blurring-the-lines-between-one-project-and-another song on par with Jesu’s Godflesh-aping “Friends are Evil.” Colin Marston, the able-fingered, interesting hair enthusiast link between Behold the Arctopus and Krallice, brings the latter band’s trademark chorus of banshee black metal guitars into the context of the former band’s skittish approach. The result is a fascinating reimagining of a familiar sound, and ultimately a profound departure for both bands. It stands out from the rest of Horrorscension and makes you wish they’d dropped it on its own as an EP or a split with another batshit jazz-blast band. But the rest of the album has a little more depth than the novelty that bands like this suggest, which makes one think that maybe there’s a focused, incredible album in Behold the Arctopus. But really, most people come to this band for their specific brand of excellently executed disorder. I’ll keep Horrorscension around for sure, but I’ll hear it when my iPod’s on shuffle. Which is absolutely fine: sometimes you want to hear some Ornette Coleman-style deathgrind in between Martire and that great new Ben Folds Five album.
(3 out of 5 horns)