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Giant Squid – Minoans

The first time I saw Giant Squid was four years ago at the Tidal Wave festival in San Francisco. The members lined up side by side in a neat row on McLaren park’s little amphitheater stage. The sun was shining on their faces while the wind sent hair flying about but the Squid remained still, transfixing on their strange noise. Seventeen year-old me had gone to the show to see Raven, a meat-and-potatoes NWOBHM act, not the post/progressive/avant-garde doom band that introduced every track with the phrase, “This song’s about sharks.” I didn’t comprehend a single note of what the band played, and I did not walk away a fan.

On that day, one of the dealbreakers of the set was Aaron Gregory’s alien caterwaul. It wasn’t tuneful enough to be called singing, and it lacked the force and power of a shout or grunt. On Minoans, the man has finally found his voice, ditching his once-grating wail for something more muscular and melodic. You know what? Let’s extend that description to the band and their fifth release, Minoans, as a whole. Giant Squid have abandoned abrasiveness and murk in favor of brevity and melody, and it works damn well.

Squid’s last full length, 2009’s The Ichthyologist, was a sprawling beast of a record, with nearly every track vying for the position of the band’s heaviest and weirdest yet. Minoans pulls the reins back, trimming the track count down and carving out stronger identities for every song. The result is an easier album to digest, with more immediate rewards. Sure, the band has ditched a bit of their weirdness, but they’re a heavier and more powerful unit for it. Minoans ebbs and flows throughout its runtime, alternating between mountainous swings and more restrained brushes with melody. The album’s proggiest offering comes early with the title track, and even then there’s a new focus to the music that was missing before.

The Mediterranean themes in the lyrics certainly tie Minoans together nicely, but another thread can be found and appreciated by fans. Gregory and Jackie Gratz’s daughter Pearl makes a pair of indirect appearances on Minoans, one musical and another lyrical. Featuring melodies innocently sung by the toddler, “Palace of Knossos” is a well-mixed stew of strings and patient riffs that let themselves stay their welcome—nothing more, and nothing less. The child resurfaces in Giant Squid’s barest composition yet, “The Pearl and the Parthenon”. The Hellenic and the toddler meet in this gorgeous ballad, as Gregory and Gratz devote their mighty powers to singing a lullaby.

“The Pearl and the Parthenon” is a welcome respite from the unholy wallop that precedes it, the one-two knockout of “Sixty Foot Waves” and “Mycenaeans.” Like a real life tidal wave, the former builds and builds, instilling pure suspense and fear until it crashes down in its final minute, leaving wreckage in its wake. “Mycenaeans” delivers a simpler satisfaction, unleashing colossal riffs that inch forward with menace. You will either be left cowering in fear or uncontrollably banging your head.

They’ve explored the realm of the odd and noisy, and now Giant Squid are finally embracing the very core idea of a song: a few minutes of vibrating air that delivers pleasure to our brains. On Minoans, they manage to cram in their signature lurching chords, cello o’ doom and haunting harmonies into their most direct and melodic tracks yet. This is still the leviathan that fans fell in love with years ago, but leaner, more efficient and maybe even more lethal. Perhaps seventeen year-old me would have still been confused as hell, but right now I am entranced.

UPDATE: You can stream the song “Mycaneans” here (now)

—Avinash Mittur

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