Bay Area quintet Giant Squid are one of those rare bands that put as much effort into the storytelling, concepts, artwork, and lyrical content as they do crafting the music. Perhaps that’s a naïve assumption, but, dare if you will, look into the thought provoking concept told on their 2009 release: The Ichthyologist and 2011 EP: Cenotes, whereby a man exposed of his humanity and left with nothing but the ocean is forced to adapt in otherworldly ways. This storyline is also thought to intertwine with the historical lesson provided on Minoans. Giant Squid play an appealing cinematic doom rock hybrid, often characterised as ‘science sludge’. Stylistically, you could make slight comparisons to fellow contemporaries Pallbearer, SubRosa, Ides of Gemini, and Neurosis. Over the course of the past decade the band have survived some turbulent early years, a few record label disagreements and line-up changes, yet have always managed to maintain their integrity and progressed their sound while improving their artistic deliverance.
Minoans is a fascinating historical concept album of Proto-European Mediterranean Culture and Archaeological discoveries, and investing some time researching the Minoans will elevate the music above a simple sound to ear connection. Plus, you also may just learn something!
“I’ll buy the whole bloody island if I have to and turn the damn thing upside down” vocalists Aaron Gregory delivers a throaty whisper in unison with the eloquent Jackie Perez Gratz on ‘Sir Arthur Evans’. Evans is the man responsible for exhuming vast palaces of the Minoan culture on the Greek island of Crete. The Minoans were sea faring masters that largely thrived in harmony until roughly 1450 BC before they mysteriously vanished. A cataclysmic turn of events are thought to have occurred, a once in a million year volcanic eruption on neighbouring island Thera turned the skies to ash, simultaneously causing an earthquake that shook the Palace of Knossos, and its labyrinths, and buried the mysterious Phaistos Discs. The quakes not only turned the buildings to rubble, but gave birth to sixty foot waves. The Minoans survived, but not for long, as the race was weakened and subsequently taken over by the Mycenaean people.
Story and concept aside. Is this a good album?
No. It’s better than that. Giant Squid have always been able to write weird sprawling progressive pieces, and on Minoans their craft to write actual songs has improved a lot. The intricate and gentle moments, crushing beautiful passages, and emotionally charged vocals are still there; what has changed is the band have scaled back the progression, refined their arrangements which has in turn, cleaned up the sound. Each track has flourishing melody, and the band knows when to let loose with crushing riffs and frenetic drumming when required. There is purpose behind each moment in respect to the concept, and if you take the time to understand what is being told on ‘sixty foot waves’ then the music actually starts to resemble repetitive waves blocking out the sun. There are equally thrilling moments throughout the albums 43 minute run time.
The dual vocal work is delivered in classy fashion, Gatz and Gregory harmonize perfectly to add depth, emotion and a level of fragility to the record, in fairness backup vocals are also deployed by keyboardist, Andy Southard. Each passage is balanced, instruments weave inside and out of each other and not one moment outstays its welcome. The bass is, at times, difficult to decipher in the mix, which is a minor drawback, whilst the drumming is well balanced and can pack a punch when obliged.
Pacing is important in allowing the storyline to breathe and this has been given careful consideration throughout, most of the album is delivered at a slow doom rock tempo, with the occasional urgent moments on ‘Sixty Foot Waves’ and ‘Phaistos Disc’. ‘Minoans’ builds gently with a sombre keyboard introduction before eventually settling on that familiar wail of distinguishing cello and sludge. ‘Sir Arthur Evans’ unearths a gentle push of guitar and allowing the dual delivery of the vocals to prosper in unison. ‘The Pear and the Parthenon’ is the jewel in the crown, a beautiful ballad seemingly interlacing Gatz and Gregory’s daughter Pearl into the narrative. The ear melting guitar work on ‘Phaistos Disc’ is a great way to wrap things up and provides the heaviest and riff orientated moment on the record.
What will be interesting for Giant Squid is whether they can continue with this sound and heavy concept laden progression for years to come – Mastodon couldn’t. Would their sound and songwriting survive without the incredible concepts behind the music? Probably not, but that’s obviously not a problem for the listener of Minoans. This band currently find it very difficult to release a poor album and faults on Minoans are very hard to pinpoint. it is a well-rounded, intelligent, distinctive, and archaeological doom rock record that stacks up alongside some of the better doom, sludge and post metal releases in 2014.
3.) Sir Arthur Evans
4.) Palace of Knossos
5.) Sixty Foot Waves
7.) The Pearl and the Parthenon
8.) Phaistos Disc