The band has conveniently recorded their set from this night. Give it a listen while you read the review below.
It pains me to acknowledge, but I feel it must be done, that most music consumers lack the strength of will to appreciate Many Arms. It’s not their fault; if anything the blame lies squarely with the trio of elitists itself. How dare they expect an audience to appreciate songs based on the concepts of theoretical physics that create the same confusion the concepts do? How could they expect the population to be ready to handle the intensity of math noise combined with the ephemeral morphing structure of jazz? How could they expect such noise to be tolerable; such dry grating guitar and base tones, intentionally cruel riffs, such spastic unpredictable drumming. How could they ask so much of us?
I recently caught Many Arms at The Stone NYC, and now have the pleasure of knowing that if I should die well before I please, I will at least get to count myself in the necessarily exclusive demographic of those who know, both in an intellectual and guttural place, that Many Arms is easily one of the most interesting and important bands playing today. It was my third time seeing them, and I now have enough data to concoct a primitive regression analysis on how this ludicrous group of disillusioned jazzbos has evolved, and perhaps identify what it is about them that makes them so damned good.
Nothing about Many Arms is easy to deal with. They thrive on being harsh; they thrive on being unintelligible, and one gets the feeling that when they complete a set and are behind closed doors, whether it is said or not, they feel truly superior to the group of mortals who have just been over run by their sound. One of the few bands with a good onomatopoetic moniker, Many Arms sounds like an enraged Hindu God, or perhaps what it felt like to be the Scylla. Their offerings tend to begin with some punchy, vaguely repetitive and bristlingly dry hyper-complexities fine tuned to a mechanical precision, although in recent albums they have experimented more and more with giving the listener a chance to catch their breath with calmer and more open almost minimalistic quasi-ambient sections. Either way, these are the sections that the listener is least pressed to work to enjoy. It is when they break the fundamental rules of both metal and jazz that complications arise.
Most Many Arms songs, and certainly all Many Arms shows, eventually journey to a place where musical structure is thrown to the dogs, and prowess, feel and aggression must take their place. I think the best way to understand what a standard Many Arms psycho-jam entails is by picture a mass of some sort of ambiguous matter that is constantly changing, manifesting different familiar materials for such an infinitesimal amount of time one cannot begin to grasp what is going on. It seems that there is no system here; nothing is related in any minute way. But that is all an illusion. Each note is caused by the preceding note, and each instrument has a causal relation to the other. Filtered through the collaborative psyches of the trio, a perfect chaos is formed, but a chaos of infinite causation; of constant change. There is an ostensible violence to these sections, something conjuring the frustration of early man faced with the incomprehensibility of life, the rejection and embrace of the unknown. It is a feeling so carnal, I believe, that there is something in it any listener can take meaning from if they choose to allow themselves.
One of the newer developments in Many Arms is a complete de-evolution of one of three instruments into toneless sound. Frankly, I have never seen a guitarist use his instrument as percussion as effectively or enthusiastically. I haven’t heard a bass so fat and fuzzed out in the John Wetton-style dig into thick ‘Easy Money’-esque grooves, and then erratically switch to machine gun assaults on time signature and tonality. Finally, any attempt to describe what the drums are doing would be in vain; words are simply not enough to describe the constant genesis they create. I believe their method is to make sure that at least 1/3 of the group is still creating the illusion that time exists throughout the moments of absolute insanity. Part of me is pretty convinced it’s all just a joke to that effect.
There will be moments within these sections that seem to make sense. The listener will perceive the drums and bass lock in with each other, perhaps a groove will emerge from the muddled abyss of sound. But that is temporary, nothing that easy is maintainable for these guys. The minute they find something digestible, it seems they grow unacceptably bored and forced to move on to something else. The trick, however, is to realize that each string of notes is a cohesive melody in itself, perhaps not the type we are used to, the type one could latch onto and keep stuck in one’s internal MP3 player, but a melody nonetheless.
That is not to say that one can’t find specific moments to cherish in Many Arms music. In fact, the moments that jump out at the listener become even more important in the primordial sea of sound they create. Something for the frightened listener to grasp hold of as he feels himself pulled into a world of the incomprehensible. He will probably be afraid; there is no mercy in this world of inflationary Gods that are products of the mere necessity of theory. I firmly believe that Many Arms was a necessary consequence of fundamental physical particles interacting in unpredictable and multiply manifested ways. It was only a matter of time before jazz for psychotics and sadists was made, it was only a time before those who grew up wanting their metal to be set free did so themselves. Many Arms was forced by forces beyond human comprehension into breaking reality, and from my brief talk with them, it sounds like they like it that way. Take it as an invitation or a challenge, but either way embrace yourself in Many Arms.