When I saw Psyopus live for the first time, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Someone told me they were a mathcore band from upstate New York, but I hadn’t taken the time to check them out before watching them open for Misery Index in 2007. They started playing the intro riff to Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman” (in jest, of course), before unleashing the fastest and most chaotic whirlwind of complex grinding noise. Somewhere between hearing those first discordant notes and picking my jaw up off the floor, I realized this wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen or heard before. I later learned that song was “Whore Meet Liar” from their second album, which had just been released that year, titled Our Puzzling Encounters Considered.
The energy and sheer intensity of their live performance was a mind-melting experience. And after listening to Our Puzzling Encounters Considered in full, it only further solidified how innovative and insanely talented this Rochester, NY band was. Even as far as crazy mathcore standards go, Psyopus took things to the precipice of unorthodox and weird (in the best possible way). Plus, they had the technical skill to back it up.
In an Exclaim! interview I did with guitarist/mastermind Chris Arp in 2009, he discussed the band’s incomprehensible sound: “We’ve been called avant-grind mathcore. That’s the best description I’ve heard,” Arp said. “We’re trying to push the boundaries of music, so being a technically proficient band helps because we have the ability to do that.”
“The band will always be Psyopus as long as I’m in it.”
Arp’s extremely unique guitar techniques are definitely the core of Psyopus‘ unconventional sound, including an array of scales, tremolos and tapping methods. Like Steve Vai on speed, it’s inhumanly fast. The fact that Arp had to send videos as proof that he’s actually playing in order to get endorsement deals speaks volumes. It’s understandably unbelievable that a sentient being can create those sounds with just a guitar.
Our Puzzling Encounters Considered features tons of progressive, avant-garde flair and goes off on various tangents, while incorporating intricate melodies and jazzy breaks. The album pushes boundaries and tests limits. It’s completely unpredictable throughout, with quick tempo changes and no discernible structures whatsoever. If you feel a groove coming, guess again; the music is constantly transforming at an erratic pace. It’s like they’re deliberately trying to trick you.
That’s the genius of Psyopus – the complexity of the songwriting, as well as the unrelentingly divergent and enigmatic style, paired with immaculate musicianship. That’s what made watching them live so much fun too; looking around and seeing people just stand there utterly gobsmacked, not even attempting to headbang to the imperceptible rhythms.
It’s certainly not for everyone. Psyopus definitely received criticism for their incoherent style, but it’s something I happen to love about the band and especially about Our Puzzling Encounters Considered. Either love them or hate them (there is no in between), you’ve got to admit that no one does bizarre mathcore quite at the same caliber as Psyopus.