4/5ths of Giant Squid return to the sea, and with a copy of Peter Benchley’s Jaws in hand, with Squalus‘ debut full-length, The Great Fish…
San Francisco’s Giant Squid were an interesting and wholly unique band who traversed the waters (pun intended) of sludge/post-metal in their own way, carving out a special niche for themselves within the genre. Unifying sludge’s lumbering grit and post-metal’s expansiveness, with elements of progressive rock, jazz and a myriad of other musical styles, the band crafted many enthralling, seafaring tales across their 10-plus years of existence.
The band unfortunately announced their indefinite hiatus in 2015, not too long after releasing their presumed final record, Minoans. Shortly after this bit of news, former Giant Squid captain Aaron John Gregory and crew began to tease what would eventually become Squalus. The first sounds to come out of its camp teased a more “punk” oriented sound spearheaded by dueling bass guitars. As more previews leaked out, it was becoming obvious the band would travel down a path similar to that of its predecessor; a path towards much odder things.
The result is The Great Fish…; an eccentric oceanic adventure that retells the story of Jaws through its weird, crushing tunes. For roughly 43 minutes, listeners will be subjected to 11 tracks of bludgeoning bass riffs, dreamy and quirky keys, throttling rhythms and lyrical recreations of scenes from that classic 1975 film. It may seem like a completely goofy idea on paper, but it’s an idea that Squalus pulls off with the right amount of playfulness and stellar musicianship.
The album’s title track opens up the record and transports the listener back to Amity Island to witness the death of Chrissie Watkins and the events that follow. “The Great Fish” begins with aquatic bass riffs and ethereal synths, which are led by Gregory’s grumbling narration. Soon the track becomes a distorted onslaught of thunderous drumming and violent bass lines that thrash about like a doomed swimmer being dragged under water by, well, a shark.
Tracks such as “Flesh, Bone and Rubber” and “Swim Charlie, Swim” give keyboardist Andrew Southard a real chance to shine, more so than he already does across this record. “Flesh Bone and Rubber” begins with haunting, jazz-like keys that build a nice amount of the tension for the coming march of hammering basses and percussion. The song weaves in-and-out of these melancholic keyboard dirges and total distorted hell, which also is infused with glitchy keyboard splendor, throughout its duration. In contrast, “Swim Charlie, Swim” begins with a 60-second emotive piano piece before launching into a muscular, seaweed-entangled doom crawl that blips and bubbles with eccentric synths.
Cuts like the stampeding “Town Meeting” feature a more “hardcore”-oriented vibe with its penchant for punk rhythms and menagerie of concussive riffs that bleed back-and-forth between high octane attacks and up-tempo sludge crawls. Other highlights include “Eating Machine in the Pond”, which eerily echoes early Giant Squid material à la Monster in the Creek. The track begins with slow-burning, dramatic keys and creeping bass lines, which build into soaring vocal harmonies before the track explodes into a cacophony of low-end madness and lurching sludge metal.
Some of the issues listeners may come across include moments, though they are far and in between, where the nuances of the bass riffs get lost in the distorted rampages they make. Then there are some tracks near the middle of the record, such as “The Orca”, that tend to fall prey to meandering paces and end up being a barrage of whimsical instrumentation with no real end goal.
But the pros vastly outweigh the cons on The Great Fish… and fans of Giant Squid or eccentric metal-adjacent tunes will be enamored with its fishy tales. Squalus have put a solid foot in the right direction with this record, and will hopefully be the first of many to come in the future. Listeners are going to need a bigger boat.
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Label: Translation Loss Records
Favorite Tracks: “Flesh, Bone and Rubber”, “Town Meeting”, “Eating Machine in the Pond” and “The USS Indianapolis”
Editor’s note: Can you count how many dreadful sea puns are in this review?