Last week, New York instrumental metal trio Behold the Arctopus announced their upcoming album with a question. “Is anyone else tired of how painfully slow metal has evolved recently,” a press release began, “compared to how quickly innovations occurred at the end of the last century?”
Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the genre, it’s unlikely you’ll answer yes, or have much of an opinion either way. But the inquiry itself gets at something fascinating: whether, in metal or any other style, evolution is even a priority. In recent years, some artists in the genre have made it their mission to uphold and perfect existing forms. Those styles could be anything from the anthemic, crowd-pleasing mode of a Metallica or Iron Maiden (see Haunt’s ultra-prolific Trevor William Church, a musician who makes no secret of his devotion to “formulaic” old-school songcraft) to the grandly forbidding death metal that flowered in the late Eighties and early Nineties in Florida and Finland alike (see Toronto’s excellent Tomb Mold).
Behold the Arctopus belong to a very different camp: one that’s constantly searching for something new, even alien.
The band is essentially a compositional workshop. Their presentation and instrumentation — including the 12-string Warr Guitar played by co-founder Colin Marston — scream metal, but the method is closer to classical music. Marston (full disclosure, a friend) writes the music on paper, and the band learns it note by note. If Marston’s other bands, including Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, and Krallice, exist at the vanguard of contemporary metal, Behold explore the true outer limits of micro-detailed technicality.
But everything they’ve done, including thrillingly involved LPs like 2007’s Skullgrid and 2012’s Horrorscension, now feels like a warm-up to Hapeleptic Overtrove, due out in June. The album finds the band making a key evolutionary step, stemming from the classical-percussion expertise of current drummer Jason Bauers.
“The drum kit for the new album removes extreme metal’s constant harsh static wash by deleting all hi-hats, crashes, and ride cymbals, replacing them with almglocken, wooden plank, metal pipe, broken stacks, and bell/chimes,” explains the band. “Sticks are replaced by mallets, and, more importantly, the function of the drums is no longer to play ‘beats.’ Instead the drums take on a role more similar to the guitars, resulting in a sound closer to chamber music than rock.”
Translation: If you’re the kind of metal fan who longs to subject your ears to utter disorientation and bafflement, you are going to be in heaven when you hit play on preview track “Blessing in Disgust.” The guitars (both Marston’s Warr and a conventional six-string, played by Mike Lerner) chug and trill, sprint and clank, offset by Bauer’s dizzying percussion barrage, which sounds like an AI robot going haywire in the pipe aisle at Home Depot. Like the best abstract art, the three-minute piece registers, depending on how you engage with it, as utter genius or absolute madness.
The great thing about metal, or any other style, is that you don’t have to pick a side. You can savor your meat and potatoes and chase the latest trends in molecular gastronomy. We celebrate today’s leather-vested heshers, still shredding like it’s 1984, but at the same time, we’re happy that there’s a band like Behold out there, inspiring us to hit play over and over — in a futile-yet-rewarding effort to figure out what the hell it was we just heard.
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