Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Giant Squid - Minoans (2014) / 90%

“We will be forgotten, we will be lost”... 

Well, hopefully they won't be...

Giant Squid were always an odd beast (excuse the expression) in the metal ocean, it took them five years to release a follow up to the excellent The Ichthyologist but now Minoans has hits the waves and so far the response has been widely positive. Their blend of cello induced post/doom/atmospheric/whatever metal is definitely not for everyone but it's definitely for me.

This concept album is about (I hope you got it) the Minoan civilization. I was already hooked on the album before listening to it since history is one of my passions (I'm writing this review instead of finishing some papers, it's currently my last year of studies before becoming a history teacher, woo) and the superb cover art helped the whole thing. The Minoan civilization is an interesting subject for a concept album since it's one of the earliest ones to emerge in Europe and there's still many theories explaining its downfall. The most popular being the eruption of a nearby volcano which could had led to economic repercussions for the naval power located on the island of Crete and a sudden weakness against the continental menace of the Mycenaean civilization.

I feel the historical context is a little bit important to the understanding of the album since the contextual approach is more than lyrical, it's transposed with the rich musicality of this record. You can definitely hear the Greek influences created by both the instrumentation but also the choice of riffs, it's way more Greek than anything Septic Flesh did in the last fifteen years, let me you tell that. The band always had a sort of classical feel due to Jackie Perez Gratz's cello (well known for her contributions for Agalloch, Neurosis and many others) but I feel it's pushed to its apex here, it feels natural and it's simply another instrument being as important as the huge bass presence, the ethereal keys and the subtle but profoundly heavy guitars. Their songs are slow catchy dirges but they never really drag, only the opening title track is over six minutes. It's brooding and has the sense of urgency that can be related to the dramatic end of an era or a culture (listen to the ending of “Six Foot Waves”.) The cello really shines most of the time but the other musicians are all more than solid and they help Giant Squid's identity development. Indeed, the band doesn't sound like any others, they mix genres effortlessly into a very progressive formula that transcends labels.

I always liked ballads, I feel a band can prove its worth by dropping the tough act to compose something truly beautiful (see my favorite band Opeth with “To Bid You Farewell” or “Credence”), that's something they did with “The Pearl and the Parthenon”, sang by both Perez Gratz and Aaron John Gregory (vocals, guitars, artwork), it's harmonious and doesn't feel detached from the rest of the release like it's often the case with this kind of experimentation. The clean vocals they use are neither powerful nor excellent but they possess this sort of entrancing ability and they're very charismatic. Gregory is the lead singer but he's, most of the time, attended by the cellist who do all kind of back vocals. This adds a lot of depth to an already immensely rich and well produced album.

With its 43 minutes length, the album feels short (especially that it ends quite abruptly), its predecessor was 20 minutes longer and I feel the band could really shine by expanding their slow, desperate side. Their music remains weirdly catchy, smooth and heavy and it never reaches cheesy territory even though it would be easy to with a geeky concept like this one (see David Defeis' Virgin Steele.)

Impossible to classify, Minoans is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2014, ride the waves till you reach the shores of Crete or San Francisco, maybe the link between the band and its concept is the Mediterranean climate?

Serve with Feta cheese, olives and lots of wine.

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