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Nearly every conversation about Queens multi-instrumentalist Colin Marston starts with a statement about how busy he is. This claim is inescapable, especially this year, as Marston has rubbed his mitts on three noteworthy experimental metal albums: Krallice's Years Past Matter (self-released), Dysrhythmia's Test of Submission (Profound Lore), and Behold . . . the Arctopus's Horrorscension (Black Market Activities).
And these are just the albums to which he has significantly contributed as a musician and composer. It doesn't include the ones he has worked on at his studio, the Thousand Caves, where he has recorded and mastered hundreds of bands since 2006, including Zs, the Men, Extra Life, and Liturgy. (Marston also produced the three aforementioned albums.)
What would Marston do, one wonders, if he had free time? Hit the beach? Watch Game of Thrones? No, it turns out. Nothing like that. "I love playing drums," says Marston, on the road with Dysrhythmia on way to a gig in Austin, Texas. "So I wish I had more time for them. Drums are my favorite instrument."
Marston doesn't play drums in Krallice, Dysrhythmia, or Arctopus; in these bands, respectively, he plays guitar, bass, and Warr guitar (a full-range, 12-string unit optimal for Marston's assaultive finger-tapping skills). The three bands are extreme, aggressive, and technical, but one distinguishing factor is the diversity of Marston's playing resulting from his varied instrumentation. Also, each project uses a unique composing strategy.
All three make punishingly dense music, but listening to the black metal quartet Krallice (the only band with vocals) feels like being crushed beneath sublime magnitude. Years Past Matter is an often-grueling experience, in fact, unless you enjoy feeling trapped by sound. But, as Marston and fellow guitarist Mick Barr's cold, carefully chiseled lines sketch their way into gorgeous shapes and monstrous patterns, the discomfort transforms into exhilaration and marvel.
Krallice's songwriting begins with intense guitar-duo exchanges between Marston and Barr, and then the rhythm parts are composed. "We try to make sure the original intent of the song—the seed—isn't obliterated, while also creating many layers of polyphony," Marston says. "We obscure that idea, but not too much—sometimes the obscuring comes by adding more layers of that particular part."
In contrast, with the mathcore/prog-metal trio Dysrhythmia, there's a more collaborative writing process: Both Marston and guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (the chief songwriter) individually bring ideas into the rehearsal space to then collectively develop. Sonically, Test of Submission is less opaque than Years Past Matter. There's some (not much) breathing room provided in most songs by the dramatic tempo shifts and the multiple melodic variations.
While Krallice produces the sensation of suffocating and Dysrhythmia dizzies with melodic momentum, the trio Arctopus unleashes the pain of being punched in the throat by someone who can punch faster than machine-gun fire. This has something to do, on Horrorscension, with the new addition of the vehement drummer Weasel Walter, who brings a heightened threat of recklessness to the band. For every song, Marston and Walter individually wrote sheet music, composing for guitar, bass, and drums. (Marston doesn't write with Warr guitar but later interprets his guitar compositions with the instrument.)
Unlike Krallice and Dysrhythmia, Arctopus's music starts with one mind writing every note for every instrument. Despite this solipsistic approach, the finished product evolves when the pieces are presented to the band members. "What's interesting about bringing Weasel into the band," Marston says, "is how much the pieces I write for drums, and for any instrument, can change depending on who is playing them.
"I like all three composing methods," Marston continues. "I need them all. The worst thing I can do is play only one instrument and employ only one method. That's the wrong way to go. The right thing to do is to expand and to push even further."
Dysrhythmia play Public Assembly November 17.