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Album Review

Brooklyn's Behold... The Arctopus drop their Metal Blade full-length via Black Market Industries. The power trio, with its unusual instrumentation of drums, guitar, and Warr guitar (a 12-string instrument that offers, via the finger-tapping method, a full-stringed guitar and bass combined on the same neck), issued its first two EPs and a live set on Metal Blade in 2006, but in that regard, the band was still honing its sound. Here, it is fully fleshed, high-octane, all instrumental tech-prog metal with all the knottiness and timeshifts required. Certainly they are among the ranks of other acts that perform this super proficient music, like Psyopus and Dysrhythmia (Warr guitarist Colin Marston is a member) as well as Necrophagist and Meshuggah, but these cats take it a step further. Imagine the technical attack of early Voivod if Steve Vai or Mike Keneally had been their guitarist. There are no real riffs in this music — more like long, intricate lines to be played off, one after another, with guitarist Mike Lerner leading the way, creating all of these labyrinthine patterns pummeled into overdrive by drummer Charlie Zeleny (who can play circles around any speed metal drummer anywhere and whose blastbeats are trademarks in themselves). Echoes of prog rock, jazz, and overdriven math rock are all present, but they don't add up to much until they are put through BTA's shredding blender in which everything comes off but the burrs.

Their control is admirable, as is their knowledge of where and how to employ dynamics. They are texturally limited, and they don't play songs so much ass compositions. Still, sonically, this is light years ahead of the promising material on Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning. Clocking in at 33:33, the entire thing goes by in sort of a blur where there is little place for headbanging (since by the time one grabs onto one idea and finds a steady pulse, they've moved on into something completely different). "You Are Number Six," with a guest guitar solo by Mick Barr, formerly of Octis (and whose solo album Iohargh Wended was issued on John Zorn's Tzadik label in 2007), is a case in point, as is the brief but utterly head-turning "Some Mist," with all of its tension and drama. Another watermark moment is the set's final cut, "Transient Exuberance," with its continuum keyboard solo by Jordan Rudess of the Dixie Dregs and the point-counterpoint between Marston and Lerner in the set's "melody." It is also the only place on the album where actual "metal" power chords are played, and it even enters into a bit of minor-key riffing for a bit. This is music with a designated audience, and you don't get here without some preparation in other music because it's just too quick, too dazzling and intricate. But for those who are willing to check it out, there isn't a better example of this kind of tech-metal anywhere. Skullgrid is an excellent next step and a rather trailblazing example for others to follow as well.

Biography

Formed: Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Colin Marston and Mike Lerner had been playing guitar together for over a year-and-a-half by the time they found a drummer who could keep up with their fast, technically difficult brand of progressive metal. After posting two demos (using a drum machine) online, Marston (on the Warr guitar, a 12-stringed instrument that covers the range of a bass and guitar and is generally played by tapping) and Lerner (on electric guitar) met Charlie Zeleny, who impressed the duo when he played a song of theirs...
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Skullgrid, Behold... The Arctopus
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