'Horrorscension' - Behold the Arctopus (5/10)
Think of the perfect tech metal dream band; a shining example of everything good and great about the style. Now, take that band, and remove everything that would make them even remotely appealing to the general public, and you might get a sense of what Behold the Arctopus sound like. Suffice to say, it’s not a scene for everyone, and I’m still left wondering if I could call myself a fan of what they do. As is to be expected from the trio, “Horrorscension” is an absolute mess in every musical (or non-musical) sense of the word. Like some nightmarish labyrinth, most of the chaotic ideas here lead absolutely nowhere, and a noxious atmosphere of calculated disorder saturates every minute of the album. Its artistic merits aside, Behold the Arctopus’ hideously dense sound is an acquired taste that takes a few rough listens to begin appreciating, although the album never comes close to fulfilling the potential of its ingredients. The mathematics are here, but the chemistry isn’t.
Really, there’s no wondering why Behold the Arctopus’ second album has received such a mixed (though largely negative) response. The music here generally flows in a rhapsodic form, furious tech metal ideas are barraged at the listener, pummeling away for a few seconds before Behold the Arctopus move on to the next idea in line. Although the fanatic precision and cooperation between the guitars and drums implies that each of these ideas were meticulously designed, the composition and structure seem to do everything in their limited power to convince the listener that the music is a random mess. “Disintegore” is a perfect example of this. Although there are a few ideas that initially suggest the track will develop into something cohesive and memorable, it never really goes anywhere. It’s understandable for an instrumental tech metal band to lack a sense of melody, but “Horrorscension” really feels the lack of a thoughtful structure.
Of course, with this and any relatively challenging album, it takes several listens before all of its layers are truly revealed. Around the third or fourth spin, the patchy string of ideas becomes easier to overlook, and the atmosphere becomes more evident. It’s strange for an album of this technical density to have any sort of atmosphere at all, but the chaotic soundscape creates an eerie vibe that I might describe as a lesser counterpart to the feeling that the similarly dissonant Gorguts presented on “Obscura”. Although the screeching, frantic guitars are the most pronounced aspect of the sound of “Horrorscension”, the most impressive aspect is Christopher Walter’s drum performance, an equally sporadic performance that indicates a firm background both in metal and jazz.
There’s little emotion in the performances themselves, but altogether, they create a dark atmosphere, although it’s up to each listener whether they want to stick with it for the first few painful listens. I could draw a comparison between “Horrorscension” and a school bully who dangles a stolen lunchbox in front of little Timmy, only to snatch it away when Timmy makes a reach for it. Although there are some great single ideas here (particularly on the ten minute “Annihilvore”, which seems to nod partways in the direction of black metal), they don’t usually stick around for very long, and when they do, the ideas afterwards break whatever momentum you may have hoped was going to come. It’s a rocky, messy, ugly album, but there’s more to it than first meets the ear.