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Giant Squid

The Ichthyologist

Review by Gary Hill

Let’s be perfectly clear here. I know that prog purists will shake their head at Giant Squid being included in the progressive rock section of Music Street Journal. That’s a shame because I’d hazard to say that this group might well be the most creative and “progressive” (in the literal sense) out there today. Sure the band has a lot of metal in their music and they used to be on a mostly heavy metal label (the new disc was self released and has this incredibly cool folding CD Cover/Envelope). But these guys aren’t restricted at all by any musical style. Their sound mixes so many concepts and genres and is a tapestry that is truly unique and unfettered by convention or narrow titles. While the same thing might be said of Rock In Opposition, I find that Giant Squid’s music – as seemingly freeform as it is – is really accessible. No, there are no commercial hits here, but you also don’t need a master’s degree in music appreciation to “get” this stuff. It’s catchy in its own weird way. So, I would say that if you want to discover one of the most original and essential bands of the current era, put away your preconceived notions about what is and isn’t progressive rock and heavy metal and give these guys a listen. The album (like the band) is simply incredible and very unique and inventive. It’s still quite early in the year, but I won’t be at all surprised if this disc makes my “best of 2009” list.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
PANTHALASSA Lampetra tridentata
Percussion leads off and then a psychedelic motif enters. They add more instruments and take us on an alternative rock meets world music and psychedelia journey that reminds me of Camper Van Beethoven. Then they fire out into raw, metallic pounding. As the vocals enter, though, this becomes an incredibly psychedelic and powerful musical journey that has a lot in common with very early progressive rock. They take it back out into screaming metal later, but even then there are elements that are quite alien to that genre, like jazzy horns. We get a movement that’s soaring and very epic in feel later with non-lyrical vocals. And this is taken into an almost Latin, jazzy direction. They continue alternating between more metal modes and these mellower ones. There’s a cool, slow moving movement later with extreme vocals. We get more of the psychedelic prog to end it.
LA BREA TAR PITS Pseudomonas putida
Metallic modes lead this off in a plodding sort of approach. This sort of metallic mode holds it but they weave other sonic elements into the mix. Again I’m reminded a bit of Camper Van Beethoven. Around the minute and a half mark they drop this way down and then continue in a dark, psychedelically tinged alternative rock style. At around the three minute mark there is a brief transition into rather King Crimson-like music and then they pound out into a metallic dirge grind. While the main musical vision here is quite metallic if you take this as a whole (with the musical progression and overlayers brought into the equation) this is one of the most purely prog rock segments on show here. They move it back out to the more stripped down stylings to carry on. Then one of the most blatantly metal crunch riffs enters and Hawkwind-like textures are put across the top to further confound classification. We get a short little world music bit to end this.
SUTTERVILLE Vibrio cholerae
They bring this in with a full on jazz approach. As it begins to grow other more purely prog rock elements are heard. This is one of the more cohesive tracks on show here. It’s slow moving and stays pretty well in the more sedate end of the spectrum. The jazz elements and odder textures are blended quite well together here.
DEAD MAN SLOUGH Pacifastacus leniusculus
A bluesy old time rock and roll motif is mixed with more of the jazz stylings from the last cut. This grows gradually and in some unusual directions. They work it into louder, but nowhere near metallic territory, but then drop it way down to atmospheric elements. It moves out later into more music like the section that came before – with jazzy and psychedelic sounds merging with world textures. They fire this out into the first crunch we’ve heard in a couple songs with a killer riff driven jam. There’s still a definite psychedelic element to this and they drop it down to a bass guitar with just classical instrumentation over the top to close this out. 
THROWING A DONNER PARTY AT SEA Physeter catodon
A killer fast paced distorted bass guitar starts this. They bring in more instrumentation as this becomes a crunchy neo-prog stomper. There are elements of RIO in this along with more of that Camper Van Beethoven sound and even some King Crimson. They work through in this manner for a time and then it drops back to give the bass (not distorted this time) to solo a bit. From there they scream out into another hard-edged fast paced jam. I actually hear this as being sort of like Rush meets Primus. It’s off kilter and very cool, but the vocals are far more extreme. At times I can actually hear the Dead Kennedys on this, but mixed with that Rush type riff. They drop it back again later and the bass (this time fuzzed up) brings us back with a Black Sabbath-like sound. As the other instruments join the rhythm section still holds that type of sound but the rest of the group bring a sort of twisted modern jazz element to the table. We work out in killer hard-edged jam. They bring back the Rush meets Primus sound and the extreme vocals in a very punk rock like arrangement later. An angry vocal ends it. 
SEVENGILL Notorynchus cepedianus
The sounds of the sea start this. After a time a dark sort of balladic approach rises tentatively. A whispered vocal joins and then percussion is added. This comes up ever so gradually. It takes on classical music elements as it continues. This stays quite consistent with this balladic motif for the first four or so minutes. Then a purely classical segment takes it. They bring some metal into that sound and then power it out into a musical journey that’s both progressive rock (with soaring female vocals) and extreme metal (with angry screaming type male vocals). This is incredibly powerful. The contrast of the beautiful and harsh is intense. This segment winds through and ends rather abruptly. Only the sea that started it remains after. 
MORMON ISLAND Alluvial Au
Mysterious and ominous tones that would be quite at home in a horror film soundtrack begin this. It gradually progresses and vocals join as more classical music sounds do so also. This is much like a ballad with pure classical layers. This remains sedate, balladic and quite classical in nature. It’s very pretty. Yet, there is a dark and rather sad element here, too. The mode intensifies, but never really alters much for the first five minutes or so. Even when they do change things this remains fairly mellow, but an almost bluegrass or folk element moves in the melody as classical tones continue overhead. This is one of a few tracks on here that if you were to tell a metal head that this is heavy metal they’d give you an argument. It never even rises to the point of hard rocking, let alone metal. 
BLUE LINCKIA Linckia laevigata
This powers in with a neo-prog jam. It’s not metal, but seems much louder than it otherwise would contrasted to the mellow masterpiece that preceded it. They run through an extended introductory movement like this and then an ultra heavy jam that’s quite like early Black Sabbath takes it. Classical elements are merged with this, but the vocals bring a heavy metal sound. This only holds it for a time, though. Then they move it into more melodic music that I’d probably describe as “Radiohead meets Renaissance.” They alternate between these modes. Around the four-minute mark they take us out into a new exploration. This has definite ties to the early themes, but it’s more of a classic rock meets prog motif. It’s powerful. There are still bits of Black Sabbath in this mix, but as more sounds join I also hear plenty of Hawkwind. Hints of Miles Davis even show up. 
EMERALD BAY Prionace glauca
A weird balladic approach start this. A little past the one-minute mark other instruments join as the arrangement is filled out. This portion seems to me a bit like Camper Van Beethoven mixed with Pink Floyd. It’s still a slow moving ballad-type structure, though. A little past the three minute mark they drop it down to a full classical segment and then bring it back up with a more pure neo-prog texture. This is quite slow moving and dramatic as they continue this extended instrumental segment. They never rise up, though. Instead this fades down to end it. 
RUBICON WALL Acipenser transmontanus
They bring this in with another balladic type treatment. As it grows it reminds me a lot of Red era King Crimson. They drop it back for the vocal delivery, but then come back up to the level that preceded it as they carry on. This has definite classical elements in the mix and is dramatic and powerful. Around the minute and a half mark they drop the speed way down. Then they thunder in with metallic fury. They combine and alternate these two disparate segments. It gets very powerful and involved later in quite a classical music meets Radiohead in a neo-prog mode display. They drop it way down around the five and a half-minute mark and the classical elements are even more powerful. Then it fires out into more metallic fury and this is another section that makes me think, just a bit of Rush. They take that section through its paces and then drop it way down to classical elements again. From there the track seems reborn as a folky, classically tinged bouncy pop rock bit. That instrumental section serves as the closing shot.
 
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