Giant Squid - The Ichthyologist
Friday, January 01 2010 @ 02:00 AM PST
Contributed by: Sage
Genre: Progressive Sludge Doom / Experimental Rock
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This album has since seen a label-backed release through Translation Loss Records and it has been noted that several tracks are tweaked on the new version. Please keep in mind that the review for this album is based on the Independently Released version.]
Having had the pleasure to experience both Monster in the Creek and Metridium Fields, I think its safe to say that Giant Squid have found the ever-elusive middle ground in their compositional structures. By the end of “Sutterville”, one can hear both previous releases blending together as if lock and key, combining to open up a new world for this band. The Ichthyologist is based on a graphic novel that frontman Aaron Gregory created about “...a man stripped of his humanity and left with nothing but the sea in front of him. ...a story about adapting in inhuman ways to survive the shock of human loss and total emotional tragedy, becoming something else entirely in the process.” As writers so often do, we can perhaps assume that Adam too was facing some of his darkest moments through the writing process of this novel and album, perhaps paralleling in his mind the protagonist in question.
As stated, The Ichthyologist seems to blend both the initial independently released EP with their debut effort on The End Records. While the band's heavier and more melodically mature sound from the debut full-length can certainly be heard in full standing, the jazzier moments that are brought to life though rhythm and the cello and vocal style of Jackie Perez Gratz give the album a jazzier feel that was dominant in the initial EP. On The Ichthyologist, we're faced with a more definitive flowing element that we haven't seen before from Giant Squid, an equal amount of filth and beauty and less dramatic atmosphere. Jackie's cello teams up with Nate's trumpet to give another layer of melody that launches The Ichthyologist into a new dimension of music. People underestimate the emotional effectiveness of instruments that aren't typically seen in a band setting. The trumpet gives the music an uncannily human sound, and at the same time adds to the subtle melancholic atmosphere that is consistently present throughout the album. Songs like La Brea Tar Pits feature it as an instrument of trudging distraction, a death march of blades over the skin of the lost. The signature guitar play from light and less of a force and more of a structured compositional instrument as with the rest to heavy and deeply, slowly aggressive is ever present throughout The Ichthyologist. A general difference from the last album to this one is the chilling out of the percussive element. While it flows incredibly well and doesn't make itself of any notice, I fondly remember the percussive side of Metridium Fields playing out proudly. Keyboard work also seems less noticeable but that should be expected with the addition of cello and the appearance of flutes, oboes, and trumpets.
With all of the incredibly complex and beautifully written compositions on The Ichthyologist, the real heroic effort within this album is on the lyrical platform. Where Metridium Fields seemed to lack slightly in this area, The Ichthyologist comes out as surprisingly moving and descriptive. Panthalassa starts us off as somewhat of a dream-state precursor to what is to come, only leading to the narrator to awaken in La Brea Tar Pits feeling the pain in his gut that we all know too well from extreme emotional unrest. As the lyrics move on, the mental collapse of the narrator becomes apparent, and past that the lyrics become more and more abstract, though obviously deeply personal. The part that frustrates me is the lack of anger in the music itself in place of a seemingly cynical sense of humor. Dead Man Slough, for example, paints a perfect picture. Throughout the lyrics it becomes increasingly clear that the narrator's partner left him for another man. Perhaps even after he caught the two himself. This track paints the red on her fingertips, speaking in moderate detail of discarding her new lover into a slough. All the while, the music accompanying this track is rather quirky and laid-back. Fans of the likes of Voltaire will know exactly what I'm talking about. The track following features Karyn Crisis and thus lets some of that aggression out, but barely really helps continue to carry that aggression over into a prolific outburst.
The Ichthyologist features guest appearances from three notable female vocalists: Anneke Van Giersbergen, Kris Force, and Karyn Crisis, and includes three guest musicians in Cat Gratz (you guessed it, Jackie's sister), Lorraine Rath, and Nate Perkins whom has lended his trumpet skills on past releases. The appearance of Kris Force and Lorraine Rath shouldn't surprise anyone because of their ties with Jackie Perez Gratz through Amber Asylum. With this said, it should be noted that each Giant Squid album so far has had one impeccable, monstrously well-composed song amongst the already ingenious tunes. For Metridium Fields, that song was Ampullae of Lorenzini, in all of its dramatic beauty in the end. We could feel ourselves sinking as with the ship as Aaron bellows out in those last few minutes of so powerfully of his finding dissuasion of tides. That, for me, was the single most moving and powerful moment in metal in 2006. After perhaps the 5th listen, it became impossible to scream along with that last doomed and forlorn exclamation. With Ichthyologist, granted every single second of this album is capable of leaving one breathless, that track is without a shadow of a doubt the transformative moments in Sevengill. The track features Anneke van Giersbergen, and I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't impressed with her solo work, though I love The Gathering still to this day. However, her soaring vocals came across as absolutely flawless in this track and gave Giant Squid yet another dimension to their intensely personal effort here. Sevengill trudges along despondently, a memorial to the most self-destructive point on this record. Forlorn and grief-stricken don't quite define the narrative through Sevengill, a track that paints our narrator in his moment of wretched transformation. Woefully, Anneke's vocals repent regretfully from the female point of view while Aaron casts in his resentful and chillingly violent enmity. Just absolutely haunting in every imaginable way. His lyrics gave voice to emotions that few of us have experienced to such a degree, and nearly any of us had any power to manifest in any form. Personally, they sent me to a regretfully familiar place that made me have to stop the record for a bit.
The final tracks lyrically become a bit sporadic. Its a whirlwind of decrepit limbs, suicide notes, goodbyes and pretty basic emotional agony that writhes in continuance until the very last “Goodbye, my love...”. The Ichthyologist is destined to become a classic if it isn't already considered to be one already. And given the press that its received thus far, it would seem that Giant Squid has accomplished making a huge name for themselves. Some will be confused by the scientific species names that accompany every track because of how they reference to the track they involve. Some are fairly obvious if reading the lyrics, such as Sevengill and Linckia Laevigata, but for the most part the others are vague or perhaps you'd need an education likes Aaron's to figure out. For instance, it would seem the death of the narrator is evident at the end of Rubicon Wall, so it would seem fitting that the Acipenser Transmontanus (or White Sturgeon) would be attached to the track because of its affinity for scavenging out dead flesh and other toxic matter. Other tracks like Mormon Island confuse me with their reference to Alluvial Au, or simply Alluvium. I'm aware that gold ore deposits are commonly found in these stones but in reference to the obvious lost soul, I'm pretty lost myself, unless it refers to the decomposed human body reformed into simple matter.
I believe the CD version of The Ichthyologist has already been released by Translation Loss, so you can look forward to the extremely limited 2LP version coming out via Vega Vinyl shortly. It has been delayed so anyone looking to get ahold of this masterpiece on vinyl should still have a bit of time. If the review above didn't do this album enough justice in your mind, then all I can say is I simply can't recommend this album, or frankly, this band enough. Go out and see them live if you get the chance as I'm sure that they are one hell of an act as well.