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Giant Squid is a hard band to describe, they span so many genres and mix so many different elements it's hard to group them into your typical music categories. If you had try to put a label it's sort of a jazzy, sludge tinted post metal sound. The vocals are very enjoyable, the male ones reminiscent of Serj Tankian, and the female ones are epic and haunting. There is also some cello mixed in, Grayceon style. Plus loads of other unconventional instruments are used on this concept album. Even after listen to the album many times and reading the lyrics as well I still don't really get the concept of the man metamorphosing into some odd sea beast, although it is interesting.
The drums and bass are very jazzy on this album, and really add to the unique atmosphere the band wanted to create. At times the album makes me feel as if I'm sitting in some old school jazz nightclub decades ago, while other times it makes me feel as if I'm riding the high seas in a sludgy storm of sound. The cello goes wonderfully at times and gives the songs it's used in such an epic feel, the only thing that can make it better is her wonderful singing. The mix of male and female vocals and the use of both clean and harsh styles make every song a sincerely enjoyable listen. You never know what you're going to get with the squid.
It's hard to really pick out some standout tracks considering they are all so different and wonderful in their own unique way. "Sevengill" is a favorite of mine. Slowly, it builds into an epic sludgy mountain of sound with Jackie's angelic voice switching off with the harsher male vocals to make a purely bad ass track. "Blue Linckia" is another standout piece of me, it starts off with a heavy doom riff and a purely mesmerizing vocal performance. It evolves and flows and has some of my favorite lyrics off the entire album.
Besides a few filler tracks and atmospheric pieces, every song is genius. Every instrument is played with real talent and the sound produced from them is refreshing and original. Even the slow pieces have a way of captivating you and drawing you out to the musical sea that Giant Squid creates. Whereas the heavy moments have a great doomy sludge feel like in parts of "Rubicon Wall" or "Panthalassa".
This album is a work of art, and a piece of musical genius. Giant Squid takes a truly original approach to metal, and you can hear in the music that they enjoy what they're doing. As a concept album it's not very conceptual in my honest opinion, and that's the only reason for my 8 point deduction. Everything else about the album is so well done I damn near consider it a masterpiece.
Music is an evolutionary state and Giant Squid stick to that idea closely as they evolve from a hardened band with production values that look poor in comparison to this airy, light and refreshing continuation of previous jazzed up vibes and progressive structures that led to them becoming an acclaimed hit with critics and fans alike. ‘The Ichthyologist’ doesn’t deviate massively away from the impressive ‘Metridium Fields’, but it does incorporate previously unseen ideas into the mix, creating an experimental feel to the instrumentation despite some scathing similarities between the two portrayals. Behind the scenes, a few things have changed that have altered the end result of this improved full-length effort. Despite the appeal of ‘Metridium Fields’, in hindsight, the production was a fault hidden within the flawless surface structure that was the debut. Of course, as a reviewer, we’re called upon to pick up on even the most minor faults and though that is precisely what this is, the production has improved a miniscule amount as the band have changed their line-up and shuffled things around.
As previously stated, it has become more airy, thus allowing those soaring atmospherics to reach even higher grounds through the use of different instruments and differing patterns, though the song structures are mostly the same. Though I do consider music a game of evolution, there are certain bands who don’t need to call upon a change of style because they’re perfectly set where they are. Once in a while, a band who are in this perfect position, will change their style and what dictates their audiences emotions to no avail. Cries of “sell-out” are usually heard from a mile away as the band tries to impact upon the same fans, with different methods. Although Giant Squid have altered in some areas, and though this does give them a slightly different sound, they’re pretty much the same entity as they were whilst still managing to progress on from the debut to higher, more profitable grounds where success is likely to be better handled and garnered more efficiently. Former female vocalist, Aurielle, has since departed the band, leaving Jackie Perez Gratz to fill the role of female vocalist and implement a jazzier feel to the sultry female portrayal.
Aurielle’s voice, though appealing, isn’t as sexy or sultry as Jackie’s. Her voice accompanies the bass, guitars and, most notably, the trumpet sections of songs like ‘Sutterville (Vibrio Cholerae)’ with more precision and poise. The band, since the inspiring ‘Metridium Fields’, have definitely upped the ante in terms of possessing the listener by means of implementing a seductive jazz base into their songs. Each song is complimented by the soft sections tremendously and benefits highly from the experienced addition of session members including the wonderful vocal depictions from former The Gathering member, Anneke Van Giersbergen and other notable musicians who provide their abiltiies on instruments like the flute, oboe and violin. These classically, and jazz influenced instruments add a certain texture to the music which makes it unlike any other band around. Of course, mainstay sections like the ever present bass and cultured banjo make this record as dynamic as humanly possible.
In fact, old elements like the banjo give a strange Asian vibe to the music which I also picked up on during ’Metridium Fields’, but didn’t know whether I was merely hallucinating given the intoxicating melodies of the debut. It would seem I wasn’t as this intelligent concept record pieces together obscure talents into one terrific outing. I’m not familiar with the concept of this record at all, but I can still claim that it is interesting and has made me open to researching the grounds of this release, which has broadened my horizons in many ways. As I’ve read elsewhere, “The album is a concept album about a man stripped of humanity and left with nothing but the sea in front of him. He adapts inhuman ways to survive the shock of human loss and total emotional tragedy, becoming something else entirely in the process. The story is based on founding member Aaron Gregory's graphic novel of the same name.” There is most certainly a feeling of this in Aaron’s adept vocals, which portray a vast array of emotions including those aforementioned. His portrayal has altered slightly on this record from the previous. Despite this being a much more mellow outing, his voice has developed a hardened stance on the lyrical themes, as highlighted in songs like ‘Throwing A Donner Party At Sea (Physeter Catodon)’.
His voice stretches into the sea, pulling in the waves and crashing against the melodious soundscapes which ran things previously. His voice calls upon nature to help him exhibit the full force of those themes and of his graphic novel. His multi-talented personality, similar in sound to Serj of System of A Down and Scott Kelly of Neurosis, has further stamped his authority on proceedings by drumming up the ideas of this record himself and allowing it to possess him and flow out of his body through his expansive voice. At times, the evolving state of this band reminds me of Neurosis, whilst dealing with aggression, the band also flirts outrageously with soothing passages that are placed in juxtaposed positions. This allows the cellos, the flutes, the violins all to express their divine individual opinions and taint the soundscapes with their delightful touches. As a big fan of vocalists like Anneke, I am perhaps a little biased in opinion. I think everything she touches turns to gold, so of course I applaud her inclusion on this awe inspiring record, which isn’t afraid to flaunt it’s obvious talents. I think this record is a marked improvement and a hint at better things to come. A band to keep an eye on, most certainly.
The only reason I heard this album was because it had vocal contributions by Anneke , Karyn Crisis and Kris Force . I’ve long held a torch for all three of these fine women and I had no choice but to listen to this. It all worked out superbly in the end because not only have the three women contributed something special to The Ichthyologist but Giant Squid has come out with a terrific album.
I suppose I could call this atmospheric progressive post rock but the Squid’s music is a bit hard to put in a box. The band has a knack for coming up with gentle and memorable melodies that are repetitive but also play out around the occasional heavy riff and layers of sound including a cello, trumpet, oboe, keyboards and acoustic guitars. The album is a dense concept about a man who loses everything he’s ever had and is standing in front of the sea with nothing left inside him and how he changes and what he becomes etc. etc and is based on a graphic novel that main man Aaron Gregory wrote. The lyrical concept is just as deep as the music and while it may all sound a bit pretentious, in reality it is anything but.
It’s a bit difficult to talk about individual songs on The Ichthyologist because this album really needs to be heard from start to finish. Still, Panthalassa opens the album with a melody that gets stuck in my head for days at a time complete with a mournful cello before going off into an energetic and fuzzy groove, Sutterville sounds like something you might hear in a smoky jazz bar complete with tinkling keyboards, the cello and what sounds like a saxophone in the background. Dead Man Slough sounds like something Tom Waits might have done. It’s quirky and catchy at the same time and the layers of instrumentation that the band uses is just superb on this song along with a terrific bass line. Sevengill starts slow with a beautiful cello and bass melody and a brooding vocal performance from Aaron Gregory before a cello break in the latter half of the song leads it into epic territory and the soaring vocals of Anneke. Mormon Island has a haunting and vintage performance from Kris Force and is another song that is complete doom and gloom and heavy on atmosphere while being gentle and completely captivating.
There really isn’t a bad song on The Ichthyologist. This is music of a uniformly high quality that is original and beautifully constructed and played by some very talented musicians. The album was only put out as a limited edition of 1000 copies sold through the band’s own website but hopefully some label or the other will pick this up for distribution. Giant Squid is a terrific band and The Ichthyologist deserves some widespread attention. The Ichthyologist reminds me of The Ocean’s Precambrian in that this album too will require multiple listens before you can unearth the subtleties and complexities of the music on offer. This should appeal to everybody from fans of alternative rock to doom metal.
Originally written for http://www.kvltsite.com
Review originally published at http://www.teethofthedivine.com by Erik Thomas
Based on vocalist/guitarist Aaron Gregory’s own nautical writings, The Ichthyologist unfortunately did not get the PR, press push and full release it deserved after the tragic death of band Publicist Adrian Bromley. However, after a personal request from member Jackie Perez Gratz (Grayceon) to give Giant Squid’s second full length album some much deserved coverage-how could I refuse?
The band’s first album, Metridium Fields, seemed to be a perfect fit for The End Records, taking experimental post rock on its head with chants, brass sections and an off kilter sense of ambition that defied categorization, and while The Ichthyologist sticks to the same tenets, it’s a far more laid back and structured album, that’s more in line with Gratz’s other project Grayceon.
While the maritime/nautical concept of the album may be responsible for the album’s more fluid, shimmering, and ebbing rock based sound, the overall backbone of the band is the same with a quirky tone with Gregory’s Serj Tankian like voice, some screams, some gruff roars, some trumpets, some cellos and a non conformist approach to song writing. Still - as off the wall as it all sounds, it’s far more structured and reigned in, and thusly more enjoyable than Metridium Fields. The songs are shorter and more focused with nothing going over 8 minutes as opposed to the 9 and 21 minute largely overdrawn and programming heavy forays of the last album.
On the whole, Gratz’s cello (and at times vocals) on the more languid, relaxing tracks like “La Brea Tar Pits”, “Sutterville”, “Dead Man Slough”, “Mormon Island”, “Sevengill”, mesmerizing ballad “Emerald Bay” and excellent “Blue Linkia” is more prevalent, certainly cementing the more Grayceon like hues of the album. There are only a couple of spurts of off kilter post/lounge rock such as “Panthalassa”, “Throwing a Donner Party at Sea” and hypnotic closer “Rubicon Wall”, that still ensure that the album is tangibly Giant Squid, just more gentle in its experimental throes. However, the lessened presence of Gregory’s vocals may be a benefit as his distinct chant/shout may be a sticking point with some listeners.
Giant Squid have never been and never will be for everyone, but the more laid back, less chaotic and less rangy tone of The Ichthyologist makes them a much easier pill to swallow, but still deserving of a record deal. The beautiful card bound digipack album was limited to a 1000 copies meant to promote the band and get a record deal, so get it now and spread the word.
Giant Squid’s second album is similar in style to the first, with layers of keyboards and cellos supplementing the more traditional metal instruments, although they’re just that, supplements, rarely taking over completely. The album just oozes with atmosphere, both in the metallic sections and quieter passages, and the unusual instrumentation is a big factor. Both male and female vocals are utilized, and I greatly preferred the latter; there’s something about the male singer’s voice I find a bit irritating. When he sings high, his voice has an annoying nasally quality to it, and when he tries to sound gravelly, the result is just cheesy. This doesn’t come close to ruining the album, however. Most of the songs have subtitles which are the scientific names of sea life; I’m not sure what that fact is supposed to mean.
My favorite track on the album was one which stuck out as being atypical- “Throwing a Donner Party at Sea” isn’t a stereotypically slow doom metal song, as it clips along at a nice pace. I also liked the song’s use of harsh backing vocals, which is fairly unusual for this band. Another standout track was “Mormon Island;” I enjoyed its near-ambient use of the piano. If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this album, it’s that it lacks an extra-long track like the title track on Metridium Fields; I loved that song and its extremely repetitive but undeniably hypnotic groove. All in all, though, it’s a worthy second effort, and it’s well worth checking out.
Originally posted at metal-jerks.com