Behold..The Arctopus / Byla & Jarboe
Skullgrid / Viscera
B+ / B+
ew musicians create their own vocabularies; fewer create their own worlds. While Colin Marston and Kevin Hufnagel have made diverse, quality music on their own, it's fortunate they found each other, as few others speak their musical language. Together, they fuse prog rock, jazz fusion, modern classical, technical metal, black metal, and ambient music into an idiosyncratic whole, parceled out to various ensembles. Their instrumental rock trio Dysrhythmia inhabits the middle of this universe. Behold...The Arctopus and Byla are extensions outwards in opposite directions, ultimately meeting full circle.
Behold...The Arctopus sound like more than the instrumental trio they are. This is due to Marston's Warr guitar, a strange instrument akin to the Chapman Stick, played with both hands hitting the strings. Thus, Marston produces bass and guitar lines simultaneously. His hands are completely independent, so he sounds like two musicians. Marston's dexterity is so complete that Behold...The Arctopus could operate without guitarist Mike Lerner. However, their interaction catapults the band from finger-flaying to brain-frying. Marston and Lerner are in the left and right channels, respectively. Without such stereo information, their dizzying harmonies recast Stockhausen as a sewing machine. Close listening distinguishes Lerner's sharper attack through his use of a pick. In the middle, drummer Charlie Zeleny sets off explosions of spiraling, spastic percussion.
The band's previous output has been short EP's, appropriate for songs that split both atoms and foreheads. This first full-length is an endurance run, even at only 33 and a half minutes. Most bands don't play this many notes in their lifetime. However, the millions of notes coalesce into a kind of pointillist ambience. Marston meticulously composes the band's music, which lends it a slightly academic feel: modern classical through Marshall stacks. But the performances are pure rock, pushing the beat and launching into gleeful accelerandos. The live show tells the story—long hair, headbanging. Last time I saw the band, Lerner had a shockingly yellow guitar and white hi-tops, an insistently '80s getup. While the band often erupts into sheets of sound ("Transient Exuberance" is perfectly named), it's also prone to melodic, tonal grounding. "Canada," for example, is the destination for an intergalactic round trip. ET's fingers would do well with the Warr.
Move fast enough, and speed becomes a blur. This is one premise of Byla, Marston and Hufnagel's ambient project. Viscera is aptly-titled; it's some of the most physical ambient music ever recorded. Much of this is due to their collaboration with Jarboe. Her voice here is truly an instrument—wordless, and more expressive for it. The record begins with her breathing. Instruments slam in, guitars tremolo-picked into a buzzing drone. Her vocal ah's massage both sides of the stereo spectrum. Drones become waves, as astral tones sparkle above. 14 minutes in, Jarboe hits the high register. The wave crests, rides, timestretched, suspended. Its bottom drops out; the wave breaks over an invisible shelf, then suddenly evaporates.
"10:58" and "19:45" are black metal without the metal, with twice the blackness. They are as if Loveless broke free from its percussion and spilled out its blood. "10:58" has a terrifying chorus of Jarboe's lowing. It's masculine, animal-like, as thick drones writhe around her. This is the sound of battle, when time becomes viscous (think John Woo). Weapons no longer enable discrete events. Instead, the air is a curtain of mud and blood, voices roaring all around. "19:45," unbelievably, is more harrowing. Its power is almost ridiculous. Again, black metal picking at light speed—but 15 minutes in, a brazen Pete Townshend windmill of a power chord drops. Live wires arc sparks of shimmering feedback. Loveless flops about helplessly, overdosed on ecstasy. Jarboe's voice pulsates like a demonic vacuum cleaner. I can see for miles, indeed.