A Token of My Extreme: Behold... The Arctopus- Skullgrid (2007)
Black Market Activities; October 16, 2007
Speaking of modern progressive rock... this trio of Brooklyn savants are exactly what the flagging, stale genre has been searching for.
Actually, before I get going let me qualify that statement--Behold... The Arctopus would be more accurately described as math rock, a very broad offshoot of prog often drawing equally from metal and jazz that consists mostly of winding, oddly metered instrumental passages, very little to no vocal presence, and akimbo, flurrying melodies that are more often a matter of suggestion before the next time change kicks in. Math rock bands aren't always loud, fast, and abrasive, nor does their songwriting even have to be terribly complex (see: June of 44), but they are often not particularly catchy by the very nature of the beast.
However, in my mind math rock bands have many advantages over more traditional strains of prog rock, to wit:
a) Songs rarely over 8 minutes
b) Minimal vocals or lyrics--the presence of either is always a seriously dodgy proposition in traditional prog
c) No conceptual bullshit
d) Very little repetition
e) Telepathic musicianship (that's Music Nerdspeak for "playing tighter than a nun's sphincter")
f) Yummy dissonance and not a tired blues progression in sight
g) Goddamn awesome song titles (see: Don Caballero)
Basically, if you like traditional prog bands but just wish that they'd bin the pretentious foof behind the microphone along with the silly keyboards and the cod-classical rambling and started over with a clean modern slate, math rock is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Skullgrid contains all of the above elements... give or take a few extra levels of technical wizardry that takes Dream Theater and other Berklee-schooled poseurs behind the wood shed and blasts them in the dome with a shotgun.
This album is seriously nucking futs. From the moment the music starts, you are assaulted with the title track's truly baffling and insane showcase of Mike Lerner's guitar, Charlie Zeleny's drums and Colin Marston's Warr guitar (think combination of bass, guitar, Chapman stick and the jealous droolings of every tool you've ever met hanging out 24/7 in a Guitar Center). This ends after one minute, but don't expect a respite. Skullgrid is only 33 minutes long, but is crammed full of enough notes and time changes to fill an entire Porcupine Tree discography (no offense intended to Steve Wilson). Yet somehow, it doesn't feel anti-musical or gratuitous.
Well, okay. Maybe a little gratuitous.
It's to this trio's credit that the music never really falls apart into disassociated wanking, thanks to that aforementioned wicked-tight interplay and some hooks loosely incorporated into the machine gun Warr/six-string dueling. Behold the truly awe-inspiring jazzy break at 2:15 in "Canada," or the thundering midtempo climax in the middle of "You Are Number Six." For a band dedicated to sounding like Atari games on crack, there is a surprisingly organic element here, especially considering there's no vocalist to give this hyperbolic math salad a human counterpoint. Not that it needs it, anyway.
Skullgrid is the go-to album for a quick, 33-minute shredding blowout of sonic mindfuckery; for when you're sick to death of basic power chords and riffs and preening frontmen; for those exceedingly rare moods when you dream of playing a Warr guitar (and promptly give up upon hearing Marston's staggering display of slap bass, jazzy noodling, and alien guitar synth); and for when you must have something as undanceable as possible to get that goddamn Lady Gaga song unstuck from your head. Oh, and if you must try dancing to this psychosis, please film it--just don't let your doctor see it for fear of endless prescriptions involving epilepsy meds and horse tranquilizers.
For what it is, Skullgrid is actually not without a degree of accessibility, mostly due to the lack of vocals. Similarly techy bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Spiral Architect or Gorguts all feature vocalists that take some adjustment time to say the least. However, I wouldn't recommend getting into this album without some other prog and math rock bands under your belt, starting with the tried and true standbys (post-Red King Crimson, Slint, June of 44, Battles, Don Caballero, Hella, etc.). Even fans of those bands can find Behold... The Arctopus a bit much, so caveat emptor.