Thursday, October 20, 2011

Giant Squid - Cenotes (2011)

Several years ago, following the direction of a trusted musician, I became enthralled with a San Francisco, California based band called Giant Squid. Their new album at the time, "The Ichthyologist," consumed many hours of my life over the last few years. The album wasn't just good, it was altogether mind blowing. This was post-sludge metal of epic proportions, glued together with an ever present cello. Three years later, the world is finally rested enough to digest another effort, this one titled "Cenotes." Brace yourself. This one is going to hit you hard.

From the opening notes of "Tongue Stones (Megaptera Megachasmacarcharias)," there is no doubt this is Giant Squid at their best. The winding cello melodies are backed by the light tapping of drums and a low bass lines. Those raspy vocals we have come to know so well enter, leading you further. The eruption of distortion and heavy kick drums slaps you across the face, igniting the coarse screams. The guitars, while increasing heavy, remain slow and deliberate. This is unpolished, murky sludge, but with something that defies description. A constant presence of the cello sets this apart from the genre, giving each track a unique feel. Even as guitars, drums and bass crash around it, the cello remains daring, with lightning fast movements and notes. More uptempo moments come later in the track, with the guitars finally joining the strings in a high octane assault, ending in a final blast.

Much like the album that struck me years ago, this one has its share of beauty. "Mating Scars (Isurus Metridium)" starts so delicately. Even as the rest of the band joins in the fray, there is an airy quality to the vocals, which, when combined with the instrumentation, will induce a head nod or two. The cello is the melody, with the guitars playing rhythm. Aquatic themes dominate the lyrics, but not in cheesy way. There is an undeniable nautical element to the music, reinforced by the vocals. "Uncanny, I sailed straight to thee, in tonic immobility, One drop in a million." A poetic approach to a style of music that is so often classified as tasteless and mindlessly heavy. The purity in the singing is worth noting, with no effects, no pitch correction present. Slightly off key at times, but always potent, singer Aaron Gregory is the captain on the vessel, setting a course for dynamic harmony.

The clean guitar riff that opens "Snakehead (Channidae Erectus)" is as catchy as anything the band has ever written. Throw in the kick/snare/cymbal drumming, smooth bass and a weaving cello line, and you have all the makings of a hit. The vocals enter, light and breathy. The mood seems to take a lighter turn, with cellist Jackie Perez Glatz even lending her voice to the song. The tangled nature of the instruments leaves a lasting impression on you, with cello, guitar, bass and drums becoming one entity. Undoubtedly, this is the song that steps the furthest from the labels the band has gathered over the years. It stays light, almost psychadelic at times, before seeing a burst of distortion and blasting drums. A few furious rolls later, the track fades to a close.

A building flurry of drums fades into range on "Figura Serpentinata (Pycnopodia Sapien)" before a full on barrage of percussion hits you. By far the shortest track on the album, this could be the one that ropes in new fans. The cello melody is stirring, and the drums are aggressively played. Layers of vocals rest atop the growing pile of sound, delivering cryptic rhymes of lyrical content. "Don’t let them know what the child can do, Growing back three where there was two, And keep his reach contralateral." The combinations of all of these pieces creates a beast unlike any you have ever heard. The rumbling low end will shake you, while the beauty of the strings holds you tight.
An epic album closer, "The Cenotes (Troglocambarus Maclanei)" wastes no time getting to top speed. Uptempo drumming and a dominating guitar riff light the fire, and the cello adds the gasoline. A surprisingly restrained vocal enters, one that seems to be a departure from the earlier efforts. The pounding of drums is a constant in this one, carving out a piece of the action with each down stroke. Unlike the previous tracks, the guitar melody is the lead, while the cello is the rhythm, both benefiting from the dazzling low end bass line. Just as you think the track has taken it's last breath, it fades out to a softer melody of guitar and cello. The spark rekindles the flame, and the cello heavy sludge returns. "A millennium ago, my father was of my age, rumor has it, I look just like him."

Do a search for Giant Squid on Google, or your favorite search engine. After sifting through the sites about the actual creature, you will be told that this band is nautical, avant, stoner, sludge, doom, progressive rock/progressive metal. Yes, they are all of the above. And yes, it sounds like a ridiculous way to describe this or any other band. But the fact of the matter is they are a fusion of so many things, that it becomes impossible to classify them. So, forget about genres, forget about labels. Listen to "Cenotes," read through the lyrics, and hear what you've been missing.


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