Much like their namesake, the mysterious and somewhat elusive collective known as Giant Squid, strike from the depths once again with their first work since 2011’s Cenotes and their first full-length album since 2009’s incredible The Ichthyologist. Known for thriving in tales of loss and tragedy, the Sacramento-based group are none more so in their element, by illustrating the downfall of the Minoan civilisation, a multi-faceted tale told from the taste of an experimental sludge, doom and post metal cocktail.
The tale opens with its title track, slowly emerging through an otherworldly fog, with the entrance of synth then pulling the fog back much like a stage curtain. There is a sense of harmony from the guitar chords played shortly afterwards, almost as if an omnipresent narrator were soothing that there was peace among this historically diplomatic society. But this illusion is dashed immediately, with a piledriving riff and vocalist Aaron John Gregory’s trademark haunted demeanour bursting onto the scene. Heavy enough to go toe-to-toe with the top of the doom food chain, yet saturated with an air of mystique and exotica that gives the album its distinctly Mediterranean flavour. Thera follows, subject matter placed on the volcanic eruption upon the island. The piano introduction, leading into Sabbath-esque riffs, bolstered by blasts of brass, build up grandeur and a sense of raw power in this track and the touches of string, in combination with the sludge is absolutely joyous to listen to. Even in the moments with individual instruments isolated, it showcases the attention to detail and only serves as a testament to Giant Squid’s musical abilities. And the intricacy of their song writing only gets finer from this point onwards.
A shower of crushing chords introduce Palace Of Knossos, a strolling bruiser with a sprinkling of xylophone and in places, what sounds like the presence of an accordion. The guitar keeps this one moving but the layers of strings, percussion and vocals create a seriously compelling melancholy atmosphere, like the palace were under siege or being burnt to the ground through the eyes of the listener. Sixty Foot Waves brings the storytelling to the forefront, while a tense waiting game is played underneath it. Thunderous drums, backed by guitar that strays somewhere between musical theatre and Morricone territory dance across the landscape. The pace eventually quickens and in a sombre string interlude, the guitar crashes down violently, with furious double kicks from the drums, pulverising what you could forsee as the isle of Crete. The ending here perhaps sticks out as truly the most visual moment on the album, such care and craftsmanship going into bringing the imagery of the island being forced underwater to your senses.
A dramatic shift in tone comes in the form of the militaristic sounding Mycenaeans. More prominent heavier guitar introduces this new group, with stabs of organ accentuating their personalities. But interwoven is probably the best string section on the album, in terms of maintaining the threatening mood, yet still keeping within the same air of the Mediterranean is fantastic to listen to. To round this off, a monstrous riff unfolds afterwards, stacked upon more carefully crafted layers upon layers of unfathomably wonderful atmosphere, to carry the song to its conclusion. Which in contrast to its successor, The Pearl And The Parthenon, is a complete universe away from. What lies here is a blues-inspired ballad, with an aching male and female harmony in the vocals. It’s almost as if you can feel the heartbreak and the turmoil rolling off every syllable and with the sole touch of strings, the effect is heart-wrenching. This song brings the apex of the album’s sadness to a very fulfilling, emotional end. Up until two thirds of the way through, the introduction of guitar, creates a foreboding, unsettling aura, overshadowing this touching scene and paying off with more crushing chords, similar in nature to that of an ambush. But perhaps the most unique switch in tone lies with Sir Arthur Evans, the titular historian on the Minoan civilisation, although musically, the song sounds more like the dismantling of a character’s sanity. The shovelling, the rumble of bass, the shimmer of cymbals, the gruff narration, all contribute to the assumed mental downward spiral of the song’s protagonist.
This may be the shortest Giant Squid album on record, but be damned if it’s not their most vital. They’re often referred to as ‘scientists’ by fans and critics alike, but if they’re scientists, then they’re incredibly gifted storytellers also. The journey chronicled in Minoans is sonically spectacular, and the prominence of the strings on the album elevates it far, far beyond an archetypical sludge-doom album. Be forewarned, this is not an adventure you can simply dip in and out of, it is a true cinematic experience that demands the utmost attention from its listener, and such patience rewards with one of the most enthralling, immersive albums you will hear for the rest of the year and perhaps many years. Near-essential for fans of heavy, progressive music.
Scribed by: Jason Hough