12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}Firstly, before I delve into the guts of this review, here’s a bit of context regarding the elaborate conceptual narrative San Francisco’s Giant Squid have once again crafted with their latest weird and wonderful musical trip, entitled Minoans. The Minoan civilization emerged on the island of Crete and thrived from roughly 2700 to 1450 BC. The civilization was rediscovered by British archaeologist Arthur Evans early in the twentieth century and has been referred to by American historian William Durant as “the first link in the European chain.” Singer/guitarist/artist Aaron Gregory, Giant Squid’s mastermind behind their epic lyrical concepts, further elaborates, “Lyrically, the album is a giant love letter to the Mediterranean and specifically Bronze-age Greece – a region, people and time period that deeply fascinates me and which I feel mirrors these heartbreakingly turbulent times we live in today.” I’m not here to give you a fucking history lesson, but for those seeking to get the full engagement of another carefully constructed and highly ambitious Giant Squid concept album, there’s an interesting backstory behind this mysterious civilization well worth investigating.

Not many bands in the realms of heavy music truly defy genre classification quite like Giant Squid.The wildly innovative five-piece have been churning out their oddball hybrid of sludge, doom, prog and post whatever-the-hell for the past decade, cultivating an incredibly unique sound while keeping their tentacles shifting restlessly into uncharted waters. Minoans is yet another exceptional showcase of the band’s evolving creative arc, sweeping the listener into the alternatively soothing, unpredictable and turbulent waterways in which Giant Squid resides. The songwriting is typically diverse and eclectic, conveying a wide range of moods and emotions, while also proving to be Giant Squid’s most restrained and somber effort. Ebbing and flowing through eight intricate compositions over an almost too short 43 minute run-time, Minoans contains all the quirky traits I’ve come to expect from the band. Shrouded in shadowy darkness and melancholy, Minoans never gets bogged down in its doom and gloom, allowing shards of light and rays of hope to pierce the inky darkness.

Churning sludge riffs, intricate arrangements awash with enchanting cello and keys, and the intoxicating dual vocal harmonies from Gregory and the phenomenal Jackie Perez Gratz (Amber Asylum, Grayceon) bookend densely packed and highly emotive songs. Gratz is Giant Squid’s wildcard and not-so-secret weapon and her see-sawing cello lines provide much of the album’s simmering tension. Whether functioning as an atmospheric backdrop beneath the guitars, drums, keys and bass, or taking on a lead role, her skilled use of the instrument adds rich texture and class to the material. Dual vocal harmonies work their wonders throughout the album, with Gratz equally adept on lead vocals. However it’s the tremendous impact of how her silky, ethereal singing contrasts with the strange warbling of Gregory’s tremendous voice that resonates most deeply. Gregory in particular continues to grow, shedding some of his Serj Tankianisms to develop into an accomplished and distinctive singer. The achingly beautiful duet the pair supply on the mournful balladry of penultimate track “The Pearl and the Parthenon” is particularly heart wrenching.

Giant Squid Minoans 02

Like any good concept album, Minoans is best absorbed in one sitting to get the fully immersive experience. Often quietly ominous and slow building, Minoans is never dull. The intricately layered compositions swell, contort and release a myriad of emotions and epic crescendos that are impeccably well-constructed. Despite not conforming to traditional structuring, each song flows cohesively and represents a distinctive standalone chapter to the greater narrative. The earworm hooks and subtle melodies may not present themselves on the first few listens, but for patient listeners willing to persevere, the rewards are deeply satisfying. Although not without its gems, such as the epic slow building dirge of the opening title track, the first half of the album is trumped by the exceptional second movement. This is where the album’s shape shifting narrative comes to its crushing conclusion. Album highlight “Sixty Foot Waves” displays Giant Squid’s masterful grasp of dynamics. The song’s slow burning segments, shifting soft/loud dynamics and dark alluring melodies are embellished by a loose and playful central groove, before it culminates in a powerhouse climax adorned by lurching double bass backed riffs and a haunting melody that recalls the chilling theme to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.

There’s really not much in the way of drawbacks to be found here. Recorded and mixed by Tim Green (Melvins, Earthless) Minoans has an earthy, slightly muddied sound that suits the material well. Perhaps a touch more definition and clarity might have marginally improved the finished product, while the slower pacing of the album’s first half might test the less patient listener. But these are just nitpicking points that don’t really compromise the overall high quality of the album. Otherwise Minoans is a deceptively addictive album that’s another resounding success from Giant Squid, perhaps only falling short of their unheralded classic, The Ichthyologist. Sure it might be understandably too out there for some metalheads, but heavy music fans seeking something undeniably original and exotic will find Minoans, and for that matter Giant Squid’s entire catalog, a thrilling and deeply moving experience.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss
Websites: GiantSquidOfficial | Facebook.com/GiantSquidBand
Release Dates: EU: 2014.10.28 | NA: 10.27.2014

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  • BranMakMorn

    Thanks for the great review. Giant Squid need to be known much more than they are. I confess that I listen to a lot of ‘digitally acquired music’, but The Ichthyologist was one of the few albums in the last few years that made me go straight to Amazon and order the CD. I thought Cenotes was good, but not memorable. I really hope this new full-lenght goes back to the grace of The Ichthyologist (one note though: what’s with the artwork? The Ichthyologist had the most amazing themed artwork, this is…umm…very different?).

    • basenjibrian

      Loved Icthy but still enjoyed Cenotes.
      While not metal in any way, Jackie’s other project, Amber Asylum, is also mesmerizing!

      • I’m more into Jackie’s other OTHER project Grayceon, she really goes all out with her cello there.

        • basenjibrian

          How could I forget Grayceon?
          I actually saw them at Bottom of the Hill (a tiny club in San Francisco) and they were both scary and mesmerizing!
          They appeared with Worm Ouroboros, an outstanding doom duo!

          • And now you’ve made me really jealous. I’ve been pitching all their bands to promoters here south the river but they are really risk-averse.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Dude I hope you mean ‘buy’ when you say ‘acquired’. If you want a record, or a record gives you joy, you should pay for it digital or not. Too many people these days seem to be happy with taking peoples art with out contributing. Shits me

    • Well you can actually properly digitally acquire their music through their bandcamp, it’s not hard at all to find, and you will support their family directly man, they also have to provide for their young’n, you know?

      • BranMakMorn

        Sure thing, but if I like it enough, I’d rather buy the CD, just for the object.

        • basenjibrian

          Except that I am utterly TERRIBLE with how I treat physical CDs. They always end up on the floor of my car covered with spilled coffee and crumbs.
          I am a…slob…sad to say!
          I even bought the new Rotting Christ in a CD format because the packaging was so neat (and Behemoth’s last slab). We won;t talk about the physical condition of these packages.
          I deserve to be the victim in the next Behemoth torture-LARP video!

    • Jeff Kent

      Aaron did all the artwork for this himself, he also did Cenotes. A few years ago he took some time off to go to,school for drawing.

  • Norfair Legend

    Love this album and love Giant Squid. The atmosphere they manage to create is so intense, it really feels like you’re submerged in the depths slowly floating as daily sea life happens. Dark, weird creatures swim by, strange lights blink below from the luminescent plant life and a lumbering squid passes by. Beautiful, heavy and haunting.

  • basenjibrian

    Cool! Hopefully this means a live show. They’re from my region, so!

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Thanks, I’d not come across these guys before.
    Dare I say it but I kinda get Mastodon, Mars Volta and even Ghost vibes splashed in parts through the sample. Bass sounds great, fantastic vocals, instrumentation and killer art…god damn I gotta get this.

    • Luke_22

      Yeah I feel this is one of their strongest efforts, but definitely check out The Ichthyologist as well. It’s an incredible album.

  • I might be reading too much into it, but there’s something in the music that screams to me their joy of being new parents, and I’m loving it for it.

  • Whoa sounds pretty cool! I’ll check it out.

  • Innit Bartender

    Having been obsessed with the Palace of Knossos since I was a child, I had to jump on this one like a tiger. I mean, the cover alone, although is a little too much comicbook-y, was like a punch in my face.
    I’m still digesting it, it requires time and patience, but there’s surely great quality in here.

    • basenjibrian

      Me, too. When I was a litte kid, I think for a school project I created Knossos out of clay!

      • Innit Bartender

        Great!! I think I still have my reconstruction of Knossos around, it was made of cardboard, it was like 1,5 meters long, fuckin’ HUGE for a 13 years old. Now that I think of it, I should post photos of that, if that ain’t METAL, I don’t know what is!

  • lacsativ

    Sir Arthur Evans might as well be the best song of 2014. I am so obsessed with this album right now.

    • basenjibrian

      Except that the lyrics make me cringe a bit. I do listen to lyrics, and this is the weakest part of the album in some places!