GIANT SQUID The Ichthyologist (self-released)
In a sense, the eclectic collective known as GIANT SQUID is as mysterious and elusive as the lore-inspiring creature from which they took their name. Dwelling beneath the watery cloak of the ocean's depths, the over-sized cephalopod has managed to escape the clutches of science since the dawn of man's exploration. Similarly, the beast's land-dwelling namesake have done well to avoid being pigeon-holed or labeled by critics and fans alike by never settling on one definable "sound." Yet, through their ambiguity, they've managed to remain consistently true to themselves as musicians and songwriters. In other words, GIANT SQUID is a band that can only be defined as GIANT SQUID. Conceptualized around a graphic novel written by guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist, Aaron Gregory, "The Ichthyologist" finds GIANT SQUID taking full advantage of their diverse array of instrumentation and influences as they bring together elements of jazz, doom, classical, prog and post-metal with unique perspective. Capturing the story's premise of a man left with nothing but the solitude of sea before him, the disc spirals through many level of loneliness; continually ebbing and flowing in terms of mood and musical dynamics. It's from this brooding core that GIANT SQUID reaches out to the world with an array of outstretched arms; some quirky and wandering, some melodious (often in disturbing ways) and others are simply heavy as hell. From the exotic opening moments of "Panthalassa", where Gregory and cellist Jackie Perez Gratz swirl around one another with the fluidity of river rushing into sea, GIANT SQUID begins a journey as epic as the vast expanses that have long inspired the guitarist's writings. Recalling memories of their breakthrough release, "Metridium Fields", "La Brea Tar Pits" rumbles the ocean floor with crushing and doomy chords topped with Gratz's moody strings and an odd little Arabic melody played on a banjo of all instruments. Said tune would be a perfect companion to the SABBATH-y undertones of "Throwing A Donner Party At Sea" (featuring Karyn Crisis) were the two not strategically separated by the jazz-tainted and mellow "Sutterville" and "Dead Man Slough". Containing the album's heaviest and most beautiful moments, "Sevengill" sees Gregory not only dancing a hypnotic waltz with his cellist, but with the song's guest vocalist, Anneke Van Giersbergen (THE GATHERING) as well; the latter's angelic qualities a perfect companion to the former's arid croon. Where the song's first half serves to lull and entrance, the snarling and monolithic end screams for vengeance at the ears of whoever is listening. After such an explosive climax, the immediate return to stark minimalist melody with "Mormon Island" takes a bit of cerebral adjustment, as does the next transition into the experimentally heavy "Blue Linckia". Repeated listens and proper attention to this ebb and flow reveal the intention behind this album, and that is to keep the listener guessing and the allure constant until the closing notes of "Rubicon Wall" fade into silence. Again repeating the elusive behavior of nature's giant squid, "The Ichthyologist" may very well go down as one of the best albums you'll never own as this independent release has thus far been limited to 1,000 copies. Sure, this exclusivity would probably see GIANT SQUID's cult credentials skyrocket, it honestly would be a shame to think that this provocative and expressive piece of music was kept from the ears of what could easily become a huge fanbase.
- Ryan Ogle