When the trailblazing and difficult to classify Giant Squid went on indefinite hiatus in 2015, the heavy music world lost one of its great innovators and truly underappreciated acts. They signed off with their exceptional 2014 album Minoans before news eventually filtered through of their demise the following year. While all good things must end, thankfully the creative juices are still flowing for the Giant Squid band members. Vocalist/guitarist and mastermind Aaron Gregory has collaborated with the bulk of the Giant Squid crew to deliver the debut LP from Squalus. Crafting another difficult to pigeon-hole amalgam of heavy styles and featuring a trademark nautically themed lyrical and narrative focus, Squalus hit the ground running with the intriguing The Great Fish… Although it retains the quirky stylistic elements and tone of Giant Squid, largely that’s where the comparisons end. Forgoing guitar, Squalus equip themselves with a thick dual bass combo, heavy use of seasick keys, samples, and pounding drums to forge a sound all their own.
Adopting elements from sludge, doom, post-metal, and punk within a vaguely progressive framework, The Great Fish... is defined by a turbulent, lively and aggressive musical attitude, with Gregory’s excellent vocals taking on a gruffer, more aggressive style compared to recent Squid material. The oceanic obsessions informing the storytelling and lyrical aspects of the album are difficult to fully ascertain without a lyric sheet on hand, though the main focus seems to revolve around the sleek and predatory machine that is the Great White shark and a healthy wink towards the classic Jaws novel/film. Opening with ominous atmosphere as Gregory’s rough vocals chime in and a beautiful melody floats idly along, the solid title track erupts awash powerful bass throbs, rattling percussion and buzzing keys, while doomy post-metal takes hold. The heavy use of keys and samples presents an oddball assortment of weird and wonderful sounds, grounded by the immense, dirty tones of the powerful bass pulsations. Breaking from the traditional six-string attack proves a ballsy move by the band and although the heavy and often unconventional use of keys comes across a little jarring and awkward in places, it’s an aspect of The Great Fish… that won me over upon subsequent listens. Meanwhile, the thick, dirty bass rumbles with seismic force, whether holding down a thunderous rhythmic foundation or taking on a riffy lead role.
Seemingly always on the cusp of exploding into storming, sludge-infected noise, Squalus keep the listener guessing, attaching addicting hooks into the shifting oddities of their song-writing. The hushed, ominous build-up of “Flesh, Bone, and Rubber,” eventually doubles down on the heaviness during its intense, layered climax, busting out the filthy, bowel-rumbling bass riffs at full force. “Town Meeting” rides a wonky groove atop a sludge-punk base and elements that shouldn’t fit, but somehow do, standing as the album’s most explosive, catchy and immediate tune. Moments of calm are represented at various intervals through the likes of piano-led instrumental “Swim Charlie, Swim,” equal parts beauty and menace, and the drunken sea shanty, “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” However, the spoken word heavy “The USS Indianapolis” is a touch tedious and overlong, and the interludes slightly detract from momentum carved from the fleshed-out songs. These are relatively minor issues considering the strength that highlights the bulk of the material and strange musical nuggets like “The Orca.”
Gregory delivers an inspired vocal performance, largely forgoing his strange and compelling signature singing style, aside from the strong harmonizing and lounge-y melancholy of the Giant Squid-esque “Eating Machine in the Pond” and cello drenched closer, “He Ate the Light.” His range of hearty bellows, strained shouts, and gruff variations in-between are an obvious strength. Overall, Squalus make their unusual combination work with functional and intriguing ease. Zack Farwell’s (Grayceon, Walken) drumming deftly interlocks with the album’s shifting dynamic tides and Andrew Southward’s inspired use of keys lends the album character, diversity and a strange, eerie vibe.
Highlights outweigh the album’s drawbacks and it’s comforting to hear such intelligent and innovative musical minds back in the game and crafting an accomplished, entertaining debut that should be a stepping stone towards further greatness. Comparisons with Giant Squid are inevitable considering the similar line-up, exotic blending of genres, and ocean-themed tone and atmosphere. However, Squalus make a strong impression of their own with a distinctive, engaging sound. The Great Fish… is a tasty and exotic journey well worth taking for the adventurous metalhead looking for a bizarre listening trip that boasts ample grunt and teeth.