posted on 10/2011 By:
There are difficult bands to put into words, and then there is Giant Squid.
Quite frankly, none of the descriptive qualities of this band adequately paints the picture of what they bring to the table. Simply saying that they offer a combination of sludgy guitars, flowing cello lines and a brilliant sense of dynamics doesn’t cut it. Adding to that a description of Serj Tankian-styled male vocals (not a bad thing) paired with ethereal and selfless female vocals also barely cracks the surface. One might also add that the rhythm section plays in a constantly shifting and vigorous manner, supremely adding to the effectiveness and depth of the music, but even that wouldn’t do it. Nope, words don’t work. Giant Squid is just one of those bands with that extra special something going on that drives their genius home.
It was this something that rendered The Ichthyologist a rare and instant classic in the eyes of many. Sprawling, beautiful, at times strangely menacing, and ultimately classy, it delivered on the promise of the band’s debut in a way that no one expected. As perfect as perfect gets, The Ichthyologist was the type of album that would have left fans satiated had the band decided to immediately hang up their harpoons.
But they didn’t.
Following up such an album is a daunting, dare I say impossible task. Being the smart cats they are, Giant Squid didn’t attempt something so crucially stupid. When the question of “How do we follow up The Ichthyologist?” entered their collective minds, they simply answered it with “We don’t.” Cenotes is as different from their 2009 opus as that album was from Metridium Fields. It deceives listeners into thinking it is a simpler album. With barely half the length at only 35 minutes long, and with only five tracks to the previous album’s 10, it is certainly easier to take in and digest, but that doesn’t mean that it can be fully appreciated in one or even 20 spins. There is a depth here that only the band’s oceanic obsession can really match, a depth that even their previous classic only hinted at in the more multi-sectioned songs such as “Sevengill (Notorynchus Cepedianus).”
Other than the length of the album, the biggest difference between Cenotes and its predecessor is the general mood and style of the songs. There are no heavy romps here in the nature of “La Brea Tar Pits” or “Throwing a Donner Party at Sea.” Instead, the overall nature of these compositions is, well, progressive. That is not to say that this is “prog” in the conventional sense, but that the songs themselves progress. Each is a journey, growing from simplistic origins into grandiose arcs that are both complex and instantly memorable. Opener “Tongue Stones (Megaptera megachasmacarcharias)” begins with a lulling Jackie Perez Gratz cello line, adding softer guitars and drums while the song slowly builds to a ferocious climax. “Snakehead (Channidae erectus)” maintains its toe-tapping quality throughout a softer beginning and much heavier coda, using variations of earlier themes to construct a constantly interesting and supremely rewarding song. Any heaviness here isn’t necessarily meant to bring some “metal” vibe, but to add another level to the band’s detail-oriented dynamic breadth. (The bass is particularly helpful in the latter.) In fact, the heavier guitars themselves have an almost chamber music quality to their delivery, foregoing any percussive punch so that they pair with the cello perfectly.
This newfound attention to dynamic detail has allowed the band to further explore their aquatic theme. “Mating Scars (Isurus metridium)” bleeds with this aura, introducing it during a section in which Aaron Gregory repeats the line “One drop in a million,” and later taking it further during a quieter passage that feels like rocking peacefully on a ship. Giant Squid’s penchant for utilizing both arpeggio and chromatic melodies also really enhances this feeling that the listener is floating on waves with the music. All of it is so well conceived and executed that it is very easy to ignore the album’s one fault: the length. While the debate over album length will rage forever, the vast landscape that Giant Squid has painted on the songs of Cenotes deserved another 10-15 minutes to really develop as a full album. The fact that the title track actually feels like a finale that comes too early exposes this minute fault. But this is a nit-pick, and the one small issue for yet another gorgeous offering by one of the most adventurous and unique bands in music today--music, not just metal.
My friend and colleague-in-arms Michael “Captain” Wuensch described this album and Giant Squid in as perfect a way as I could imagine: he called them “a joy to listen to.” That right there is the truth, and probably the reason why every “non-metal” friend of mine that has heard this band has instantly fallen in love. Despite feeling a tad truncated, Cenotes continues this love affair, proving that Giant Squid will be as unpredictable in style as they are consistent in staggering quality. It may still be hard to adequately describe their music, but it’s unbelievably easy to recommend. You need this, and so do all of your family members.
One drop in a million, indeed.
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