Quick! Name the English archaeologist known for unearthing artifacts of the Minoan civilization and who had a prominent role of defining what those people meant to the history of Greece as well as the Mediterranean region. Don’t know it? It’s OK if you don’t. I didn’t until just recently, and had it not been for the great new record from Giant Squid, I may never have reason to read up on it either.
The answer to that question is coming soon, but let’s get into the bulk of the progressive doom band’s fourth record “Minoans” and what inspired the band to seek this path. See, Giant Squid always did things way differently than many other metal bands, especially in the doom realm. Instead of basing their work on destruction, death, or negativity, this group always headed outward to the seas, to the scientific, to the natural. The band isn’t just called Giant Squid because it looks good on a T-shirt; it’s because it’s a focus for the band to adventure deep under waters rarely seen by human and pay homage to creatures and things many people haven’t before. They also approach their music differently, branching out for each release, refining their melodies and style, and never returning the same beast. That same goes for “Minoans,” where the singing is as rich as ever, psychedelic bubbling becomes a large factor, and they go heavily toward dramatic, rousing passages, making for one hell of a riveting listen.
So it’s easy to be moved artistically and learn new things when taking on Giant Squid–guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory, cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz, keyboard player Andrew Southard, bassist Bryan Ray Beeson, and drummer Zack Farwell. I’ve only scratched the surface of indulging in more on the Minoans, who were prominent on the island of Crete from 2700-1450 B.C. Just as fascinated as this lost society is are the many theories for how they met their end, from volcanic eruptions to war to environmental carelessness, all of which easily could bring today’s societies to its knees. So there’s another lesson to be learned from this great band, who we’re so happy to hear from again as their last record was 2009’s concept piece “The Ichthyologist.”
The opus begins with the title cut, with gently moving waves and psyche keyboards washing over and chilling you out. The pace moves along deliberately, with Gregory’s vocals opening up, strings swirling in the wind, and great melodies meeting up with Gratz’s commanding cello. It’s a captivating, swelling cut that opens the record nicely. “Thera” is unmistakably emotional, with more keys drizzling, and a punchier tempo setting the tone. Both Gregory and Gratz provide vocals, often taking turns as the dominant voice, with glorious melodies that eventually meet their end when the doom drops out of the bottom. From there, the song catapults forward, with the guitar surging and dominating, and the song taking on a surfy feel. Remember that question we asked in the opening paragraph? Well, you get your answer on “Sir Arthur Evans,” a track inspired by the man who discovered the remnants of the Minoans and who gets homage paid through jazzy playing and Gregory’s croaking vocals that sound not unlike Tom Waits. It feels like a pirate tale at times, with the end bursting open, the cello adding dashes of color, and the conclusion absolutely rumbling. “Palace of Knossos,” another of Evans’ discoveries, get burly treatment, with Gratz singing, the texture feeling awfully cool, and some strong vocal interplay that takes you down the stretch.
“Sixty Foot Wave” brings the assault of life-ending destruction into play, with the bass driving hard, playful guitar lines emerging, and Gregory calling, “We will be washed clean and torn asunder,” imagining the end of civilization coming to pass. Guitars sharpen and cut, the band hits a cool groove that pushes the song, and everything keeps building until the end arrives. “Mycenaeans” has a steely, punishing approach, with vocal harmonizing, a dreamy texture, and some of the heavier stuff on the whole record. The band then takes an ominous turn, with the cry of, “What god do we turn to?” before the final moments embody total cataclysm. “The Pearl and Parthenon” could be called a ballad, as it’s played slowly and with a lot of heart. The vocals are softer, with Gratz and Gregory taking turns switching off from lead to backing, and the track progresses gently and warmly. It’s not all serenity, though, as the closing minutes get heavier and crushing, taking your head for a serious trip. Closer “Phaistos Disc” has slinking keys and Gratz sings, giving it a honey-rich, smooth glaze, while the band hits yet another jazz groove. The pace swings back and forth, like an ocean growing aggressive and then pulling back, as all the sounds rise up to form one voice. The band starts wailing away, with each piece showing its strength, and the finish feels like a massive curtain drop, putting one final emphasis on a great civilization that was lost in time but has risen up never to be forgotten again.
Giant Squid do a great job standing out among their peers through their passion, creativity, and intelligence. They’re not concerned with overwhelming you with brutality and would rather tell you a story that contains rough edges and progressive sequences. Because of this, Giant Squid remain an ever-evolving band, a group that’ll never came back with the same record twice, and one you can depend on to give you a unique journey you’ll love taking. No, you don’t have to dig into history and learn to enjoy “Minoans.” You can just dig the music. But if you do engage, you’ll become a greater part of this record spiritually and expose yourself to a group of people who faced similar trials and tribulations we do, and perhaps a way we can save ourselves before it’s too late.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/giantsquidband
To buy the album, go here: http://translationlossrecords.bigcartel.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.translationloss.com/