originally written by Chris McDonald
Despite featuring numerous traits that I generally find deplorable in extreme music, something about Psyopus’ off-kilter instrumental prowess and peculiar sense of almost sarcastic self-awareness has held on to my attention ever since I happened upon their clusterfuck of a debut, Ideas of Reference, purely by chance. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that these guys fall squarely into the realm of “technical for technicality’s sake,” but past outings have revealed some serious creative potential buried beneath the wankery…enough to maintain my interest in where this project goes next despite their sound being mostly at odds with my usual tastes.
After 2007’s solid but fairly redundant Our Puzzling Encounters Considered, guitarist and main creative force Chris Arp apparently thought it was time for a change. Arp is the only original member remaining on Odd Senses, with the other instruments covered by an entirely new lineup, and the musicianship is no less mind-boggling than it’s ever been (as if anyone had doubts to the contrary). The snare rolls are ridiculously tight, the bass is constantly going off on deranged tangents, and the guitar playing is noodlier than an overweight college student binging on Top Raman at three in the morning. But this is all old news. What Psyopus fans should really be interested in at this juncture is whether or not Arp and company have finally elevated their songwriting to a level high enough to propel this band beyond novelty status.
So…have they? Not quite. Odd Senses is largely a continuation of the first two albums, combining the bizarre, spidery hooks of noise rock legends Aids Wolf with the hyperactive ferocity of The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Red Chord. Arp’s schizophrenic fret board rambling still takes center stage in the cacophony, diving back and forth between head-spinning shredding and eerie, mocking webs of backwards melody not wholly dissimilar from something you’d hear by latter period Gorguts or even modern-day Deathspell Omega (though obviously delivered in a much different context). The manic, spiraling riffs are highly impressive on their own, and when delivered in a more digestible pace (“The Burning Halo,” “Medusa“), can be flat out phenomenal. Arp is a master at weaving seemingly random notes into dizzyingly intricate bursts of intensity, and the drumming propels the songs to almost unbearable levels of tension with a constantly changing whirlwind of rolls, blasts, and jazzy cymbal work. When a particularly engaging riff surfaces and all four musicians are really playing off of each other, there’s no doubt that Odd Senses can be an incredibly energizing listen.
But the band continues to struggle in maintaining the high bar they set for themselves for the entirety of an album. The frustrating tendency of Arp to fill in the gaps between the more recognizable riffing segments with formless scrambling noise is a recurring problem, especially in the second half of the disc, and serves little purpose except to maintain that technical “wow” factor as constantly as possible. While it could be argued that this difficulty with transitions is inherent to the style Psyopus plays, some of these songs feel like they’re ready to fall apart at the seams; “Boogeyman” and “Choker Chain” in particular jump back and forth between blasting mayhem and grating, repeating voice samples virtually at random, making for easily the most painfully irritating material this band has ever produced. And “A Murder To Child,” which closes things with nine minutes of wandering violins and clean guitar, makes for a conclusion to the record that, while relaxing, isn’t memorable in the least.
Psyopus continue to drive me crazy by straddling the line between true brilliance and total pointlessness. It really feels like these guys are well aware of when they sound great, and when they sound terrible, and make a conscious effort to do both on each album they release. The limitless instrumental potential and mesmerizing approach to riff writing displayed here is remarkable, yet still hampered by the band’s nagging propensity to box themselves into a corner with their own abilities. Odd Senses will undoubtedly satiate existing fans, and does a serviceable job of maintaining Psyopus’ position as one of the premier purveyors of caustic, relentlessly inaccessible extreme hardcore. All that’s left for this outfit now is to recognize and learn from past mistakes, and take things to the next level.