Fans of complex heavy forms of music all know the name “Colin Marston”. The man is featured in lots of jaw-dropping musical acts such as Behold the Arctopus, Krallice, Dysrhythmia and even Gorguts. Three of his bands released new material this year and I recently caught up with Mr. Marston to shed some light on said material. In this interview we discussed Behold the Arctopus, his involvement in Gorguts, his studio ventures and a lot more. There’s even a “your mom” joke in there!
Hello Colin! How are you doing?
CM: Fantastic, thanks!
Your three main musical projects, Dysrhythmia, Krallice and Behold the Arctopus put out albums this year. I would like to start off with the latter. Could you tell me a bit about Behold the Arctopus’ Horroscension? Writing, recording, etc?
CM: We continued the same writing process as used on “Skullgrid,” where each song is written on paper by a single band member and subsequently memorized and rehearsed. I wrote 3 songs on the new album, and Weasel, our new drummer, wrote two. the 2nd to last song is a studio collage of sorts written by your mom*. Mike has had a number of pieces in the works for some time, so most likely our next album will feature a lot more of his writing.
Our old drummer and I butted heads constantly about many aspects of the performance and mix and master on “Skullgrid.” He wanted slick, sound-replaced, dry, edited, and perfected performances, whereas I prefer straight takes (complete with minor imperfections) and bands that record as live as possible, with minimal punching and editing. I also prefer a more organic, realistic sound: roomy drums and un-triggered snare and toms. Weasel and I differ on aspects of sound and production too, but we share a general recording aesthetic: the band should, um, sound like a fucking BAND, not a computer. So recording with Weasel was a pleasure. The two of us recording live to 2″ tape and then Mike overdubbed all his parts in the computer–a far cry from punching in almost every bar of drums and then fucking around with the the placement of each hit. We doubled most of the guitar and “melody” side of the Warr guitar and added some extra minimal ear candy. The whole recording and mix only took a few days, but considering we practiced for 2 solid years, it was hardly a short album-birthing.
It may be just me but I notice a slight change in sound from Skullgrid to Horrorscension. The songs on Horrorscension seem a lot a heavier and a little less spastic than Skullgrid. What brought about this change in sound?
CM: I think we sound more aggressive with Weasel on drums, so that might account for some of the heaviness… and side 1 of the new album is also probably the most concentrated stretch of dissonance we’ve written so far. As the years go on I definitely get a little less afraid of writing “boring” music, which may account for some of the band’s older material being more spastic; I’m more willing to roll with a musical idea for longer now.
You recruited Weasel Walter of The Flying Luttenbachers fame for drum duties this time around. How did you get acquainted with him and what do think he brings to the table?
CM: Weasel and I have known each other for years. We both used to be involved with the label Troubleman Unlimited (who released the original version of “Nano-Nucleaonic…”), and I believe I first met him at a TMU show at the old Northsix. I’m a huge fan of the Luttenbachers and I’d say they were one of the primary inspirations for BTA. Not surprisingly, we share many common musical interests (unlike our old drummer), so the company makes more sense. As I mentioned before, Weasel brings some much-needed aggression and hate to the band. He’s someone that understands that dense and complex music can still be delivered with rawness and intensity. He also is an amazing composer and the songs he wrote for “Horrorscension” compliment the rest of this bands’ music perfectly.
The artwork on Horrorscension is just ridiculously awesome. What influenced the cover art and what went into making it?
CM: Terry Grow painted it, along with the “Skullgrid” and “Nano…” covers. We provided Terry with the album title and a rough idea to depict a surfacing cybernetic sea monster. You’d have to ask Terry what his artistic influences were, but I did put in a request for a distinct Roger Dean vibe for the background.
What made you drop the ellipsis in the name? I miss having a dramatic pause before I say “arctopus”!
CM: I really didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I wanted to just make it optional, so if you want to pause dramatically before saying, “Arctopus,” you still can. We won’t have you arrested or even fined.
You have a lot of different musical ventures going on all the time, not to mention your recording duties. With this plethora of projects how did Behold the Arctopus survive all this time?
CM: I get very impatient with how long it takes for albums to be finished and released. I still get impatient even now that I’m in four bands, so I’m making another Indricothere album. Writing is my favorite part of music, so I generally feel like I’m wasting my time when new music isn’t being worked on. Arctopus has pretty much always had a backlog of unrehearsed music to work on since learning takes so long–that’s always given us a focus and direction. There is no time to contemplate survival.
Now onto Krallice. What can you tell me about the formation of Krallice?
CM: Mick and I started the band in 2007. We brought in Lev to play drums on the first album and then Nick joined shortly after we finished recording the first album. Now we make more and more albums and play fewer and fewer shows.
Where exactly did the name “Krallice” come from?
CM: That’s Mick’s title. Kralice (with 1 L) turns out to be the 1st Czech version of the Bible. I’ve even heard that it was the 1st Satanic bible, but I have nothing to back that up with. It’s certainly not named after that, especially since it’s not even that same word.
Could you tell me a little bit Krallice’s new record, Years Past Matter? Recording, writing, etc?
CM: Writing and recording weren’t terribly different from the other albums. Mick experimented with an altered guitar tuning on the 1st two songs, we used a different bass amp, overall the mix is drier than in the past–less distantly mic’ed drums and guitars. The recording experience was the most effortless on this album (we all drove ourselves crazy in different ways on “Dimensional Bleedthrough”) and I think that comfortable feeling is audible in the writing and performances: we sound like a tighter unit now that we’ve been playing together for 4/5 years.
How do you feel this record compares to previous Krallice records?
CM: We placed slightly less emphasis on vocals and lyrics this time. We placed no emphasis on song titles, but of course that backfired. I guess you just can’t put “|||||||” as a song title without somebody getting confused or upset. We did literally everything ourselves this time, from artwork to the release itself–that has been a really positive experience. The sound and mix are a little clearer on this album for better or worse.
I noticed that the artwork on each record seem to be continuation of the other. First the trees on the self titled, then the mountainside on Dimensional Bleedthrough, then above the sky on Diotima, and finally outer space on Years Past Matter. Will subsequent Krallice covers follow this same pattern and how far out will they go? Does this tie into any recurring themes within the albums themselves?
CM: Ha that’s great–I never thought about that! I guess our next album will have to depict time travel… or the dimension through which stuff is bleeding.
I’m not involved in the lyrics/titles, so I’m not sure about themes in that sense, but musically all the albums are definitely linked and follow a progression. The fact that the album covers also follow a progression isn’t a mistake but it’s parameters are highly subconscious. It would have been even better if we’d followed my original idea and had no titles for any of the albums: you’d have to put them in order just based on the cover art’s narrative.
How would you compare Krallice to other modern black metal acts? What is your opinion on the current black metal “scene”?
CM: There certainly isn’t just one black metal scene any more. It’s one of the most diverse metal genres there is. Probably THE most. So I don’t have one simple opinion on the “scene,” I have lots of opinions on various aspects of various scenes. In general I don’t focus much on the parts of music that aren’t music itself, so most of what you’re probably asking about (Transcendental BM, USBM, NSMB, symphonic BM, pagan this, necro that, satanic, sarcastic, and celine dionic) I try to ignore. I use the term “black metal” for Krallice out of convenience, not because of anything dogmatic.
Now onto Dysrhythmia: Around the time Dysrhythmia was coming into fruition,
were there ever any plans to have vocals? Or did you guys decide from day one that Dysrhythmia would be an instrumental only group?
CM: Dysrhythmia was founded with the idea of being instrumental. Early on, the old bass player did experiment with vocals for a brief moment, but it never stuck.
Since you are in two prominent instrumental groups, Dysrhythmia and Behold the Arctopus, what is your opinion on instrumental only music? Do you prefer instrumental music? Does the writing and band “mechanics” differ greatly in these two projects compared to your other projects that feature vocals?
CM: I don’t tend to put as much significance on the divide between instrumental and non-instrumental music as most people. I view the voice as just another instrument. Granted in many forms of music it is the lead instrument, but that’s almost never the case in extreme metal and much prog. So I would argue that in the styles of music that we are related to, or operating within, being instrumental does not carry the significance of lacking the lead instrument. Also, our music is fairly intricate and busy–it doesn’t sound like music that was intended for vocals to carry it.
I wouldn’t say I prefer instrumental music, since I mostly listen to non-instrumental music, but I rarely get inspired by lyrics, so generally what I admire about the singers I like is their timbre and sense placement and rhythm. I’m definitely not interested in “song”-based music (e.g. singer-songwriter music where the primary content and focus is lyrics and traditional song structure).
The mechanics don’t differ that much from Dysrhythmia/Behold to Krallice/Gorguts. Even in Krallice and Gorguts all the music is written as instrumentals long before lyrics or vocals are considered. I can’t speak for my other bandmates, but I don’t approach these bands’ music differently because they’re going to have vocals or not.
Could you tell me a little bit about Dysrhythmia’s new record Test of Submission? Writing, recording, etc.
CM: This is Dysrhythmia’s sixth album and the first released by Profound Lore (the previous three were on Relapse). This band writes the most collaboratively, so the songs can take longer to finish writing than say, a Behold song. Everybody not only writes their own part, but the parts themselves and the transitions between them usually develop slowly and naturally the longer we practice and play shows. In fact, we often continue to change details and fine tune tempos well after our albums are recorded. We spent the last three years working on this album and most of the songs we only played live a handful of times before recording (usually we do a full tour playing the entire album BEFORE recording). So we probably spent more time fine-tuning these songs in the rehearsal space than on any other album.
How do you think Dysrhythmia has changed stylistically over the years? I’ve noticed a pretty big change from Pretest up until now.
CM: The biggest stylistic change was the old bassist leaving after “Pretest” and me joining. Clayton came from more of a punk background, which is especially audible on “Pretest” (for which he spearheaded many of the songs). Four of the songs on “Barriers and Passages” were also initially written with him and then reworked with me. So that’s the transitional album where you can hear a development from his more tonal punk sensibility (“Will The Spirit Prevail”) to my more dissonant prog/metal writing (“Bus: Terminal”). Aside from the lineup change, the band’s sound has become more muscular and less quirky. Especially on the new album: now we have some double kick, blasting, and guitars with humbuckers!
Are you still involved in Gorguts? Will there be anything coming from them anytime soon?
CM: Yes indeed (and Kevin from Dys as well). We just opened for that zany “Death to All” Chuck Schuldiner tribute tour, followed by a 3-week European festival tour. The music for the new album has been written for a couple years but the recording and release have been held up by endless label negotiations.
Do you often find trouble trying to juggle all of these different projects?
CM: No, but the main thing that takes time and slows progress is touring, and I don’t do more than an average of 2 months per year. If any of my bands toured as much as many of my friends who just play in one group, scheduling would be more difficult. I run my own recording business, so I can make myself available for all the bands as long as I plan far enough in advance. Also, every band practices here at my studio, so I can do things like work with a band from noon to 8pm and then instantly be at band practice. I’m lucky in that way.
Is there a band of yours that is your favorite to write for above all the rest?
CM: No, I value all the people I play music with and each of their approaches to writing and collaboration. Working in each band feeds and balances the others. At this point in life, I need all of them since each fulfills an area of music that others might just touch on.
The majority of the bands you are involved in are very complex and technical in nature. What is your opinion on complex forms of heavy music and what is complexity’s role in heavy music. What are the pros and cons of it essentially?
CM: I don’t think complexity’s role in heavy music is any different from that of simplicity’s: what matters is how it’s used. You never appreciate something just because it’s complicated or only because it’s minimal. What are the elements that make up a complex musical passage and how are they implemented? What’s the context of the technical musicianship? Is it cloaked beneath some inscrutable, hazy death metal, or soaring above some pristine diatonic power metal? Contextual relationship is everything… not to mention the taste of the listener which ultimately decides any music’s value.
At what point in your life did you start gravitating towards technical music? Were there any albums that pushed you in that direction?
CM: I’ve always had that gravitation. Right after I started playing guitar (around 10 or 11), I got super deep into King Crimson. That band with their four-hundred billion releases opened my mind to many areas of less-traditional and more complex music. In the following decade, bands such as Thoughtstreams, The Flying Luttenbachers, Univers Zero, Death, Gorguts, Voivod, and classical music from Bartok, Penderecki, Berio, and Schnittke were essential influences on my writing.
What is your opinion on technical music nowadays?
CM: Same as the rest of music, plenty of good and plenty of bad!
Do you have or ever have had difficulty gaining an audience playing this type of music? What kind of people do you feel are attracted to this form of music?
CM: Definitely. I’m still surprised every day that anybody likes my music, but I’m never surprised when people don’t. What the average person appreciates in music is familiarity and relatability: “oh that song reminds me of my favorite band! all my friends will like it, so I like it!” I’m not going to say I never fall into this category–everybody does to some degree whether they realize it or not–but I enjoy writing music that feels uncomfortable and alien. Isn’t that a little more interesting at least? Luckily gaining an audience is not a goal of mine, so I’m never discouraged by this.
Now I should point out that technical/complex music does not always sound uncomfortable and alien. “The Star Spangled Banner” is quite technical compared to most national anthems (sporting a wide range and large intervallic jumps) and that’s as un-alien as it gets. Meshuggah is quite rhythmically technical and yet amazingly popular, inspiring musicians from all corners of metal and beyond. So when I say I’m not surprised that my music has a small audience, it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s technical, and a lot to do with its lack of familiarity.
I want to ask about your studio. When did Menegroth: The Thousand Caves come into being?
CM: I moved into this space in 2006, after leaving behind my first studio: Paincave, where I worked from 2004-6.
How were you and The Thousand Caves affected by Hurricane Sandy?
CM: Luckily the studio was not affected at all. But go here and donate to Translator Audio: http://www.translatoraudiobrooklyn.com/Translator_Audio_Brooklyn/Home.html
That studio was not so lucky!
What is some of favorite equipment to use when recording?
CM: I have a Studer A800 mkIII 2″ machine which is awesome for tracking, by my REAL favorite piece of gear is a drum tuning key.
What have been some of your favorite bands to work with so far?
CM: Defeatist, Praetura, The Gate, Seabrook Powerplant, Mick Barr, Battletorn, Ancient Wound, The Howling Wind, R Loren, Cleric, Panopticon, Jarboe, Oneida, Gods of Chaos, Wreck and Reference, Yellowthief, Clan of the Cave Bear, Kayo Dot, Time of Orchids, Extra Life, Zs, East of the Wall, Baring Teeth, Zevious, Smother Party, Thoughtstreams
What was the most challenging record(s) to record, including your bands?
CM: Well, “Regressions” by Cleric took waaaaaay longer than any other record I’ve ever worked on. It’s also probably the most dense in terms of the sheer number and complexity of layers being heard at any given time. “Aesthethica” by Liturgy was challenging in the sense of, “is it done? could it be better? could it be different?” So there was a lot of re-recording, re-mixing, and re-mastering involved… but in the end I think it came out sounding great.
For my bands: “Skullgrid” by Behold the Arctopus was challenging since Charlie and I disagreed about just about everything. That album was no fun to record and mix. “Dimensional Bleedthrough” by Krallice had it’s issues: Mick got into a bike accident and injured his right arm right before we were supposed to record. That made it physically and psychologically stressful. Lev couldn’t figure out how high to set his drum seat, making the kicks hard to play, and I nearly went crazy mixing the album… McMaster was really the only one who nailed it on that one!
Any upcoming projects coming up in The Thousand Caves?
CM: Yes, always many things upcoming: new albums to master from Ocrilim, Sadgiqacea, Woe, Sein Zum Tode, Drummers Corpse… and new recording/mixing for Crushed, The Gate, Split Red, Vulgar Fashion, Seabrook/Walter/Lipson, Satanized, and Zevious.
Do you have any upcoming tour plans with Behold the Arctopus, Dysrhythmia or Krallice?
CM: Dysrhythmia just finished a national tour, but we might do some shorter tours in the next 6 months. Krallice has no plans for any shows right now. Behold is playing our album release show at Saint Vitus in NYC on December 15, and then the 16th in Ithaca, NY. We’re planning some sort of tour for March-ish, but it hasn’t been planned yet.
One last question: Can your hair kill a man? It gives off a very violent vibe.
CM: You’re going to be pretty disappointed, but I’m growing out the sides of the mohawk. It’ll be less violent but just as psychic.
Any final words of wisdom?
CM: Whatever you do, don’t land on LV-426!
Thank you for your time Colin. Take care!
CM: Thank YOU for the interview!