For some bands, the price of fandom is a high one. Fan club memberships, $50 concert tees, ten reissues a month, etc. For others, it is a simple, unspoken agreement between band a fan. Support the band. Buy an album, digital download, or a shirt when the concert comes through. Check out merch through their website. In return, you get music. isn't that a fair deal? Giant Squid, a band that has been on the menu for a lot of eclectic fans for nearly a decade, hasn't tried to sell you an overpriced commemorative dinner plate. They don't have a fanbase that equates your dedication based on when you got aboard the ship. And they surely haven't survived by milking fans for every dollar in their wallets. You buy an album every couple years, and you get the gift of thought provoking and undeniably beautiful music. And with story and sound in tact, Minoans reminds you of why you'll keep coming back. Rightfully so.
Few bands have given themselves as distinct a sound as Giant Squid, an identity that shines through in the earliest moments of the title track, Minoans. The vocal howl and crying cello of Jackie Perez Gratz is a dead giveaway hear, but the albums longest track is also its most expansive, alternating between a sullen croon and a thunderous verse. Perhaps heavier than you may have been prepared for, the drum work here is like a tidal wave, though it is not a weight that cannot be managed. In fact, each kick drum helps to bring the other pieces to the surface, the paired vocal of Gratz and Aaron Gregory forming one of the most dynamic tandems in modern heavy music. Their intertwined and wholly beautiful vocal lines bend and sway, building harmonies with each other and the instrumental below. It's felt throughout the album, but perhaps more on Thera than anywhere else. It stands as a testament to what the band does well; that is to say, weaving together a delicate balance between story, sound, and fury. They stand as one mass, rather than smaller elements.
There is not one strength, but many. The sliding bass line that opens Sir Arthur Evans forms the perfect platform for Gregory to use as his history inspired soap box. His breathy voice is unique, yes, but also haunting. It's the latter aspect that causes the chills to crop up, even in the quietest and heaviest times. But it goes deeper than the surface sounds here; Palace of Knossos reminds us how broad the scope of this music can be, wrapping you around their little finger with rich melodies. It not only bends the borders of their genre, but makes you question the genre entirely. Cello wraps itself around a slowly delivered guitar riff, like a candy stripe up a barber pole. It isn't music as much as it is expressive use of sound. The two, despite what you may think, are not always one and the same. It remains eclectic enough to leave your jaw on the floor, in this case making it feel like Sixty Foot Waves is more than just a song title. The tumultuous sea is captured in every movement here, rough waters spilling through your speakers in the form of huge drum fills and a closing scream.
By the time you've reach Mycenaens, you probably have had enough to call the album a success. But the strums of the acoustic guitars resonate so well underneath the winding cello and vocal pairings that you might not be able to turn away. It is a complete piece of work, composed and detailed in ways that are both amazing and jealousy inspiring. It's as if they have monopolized the somber crooning market, Gregory and Gratz bringing the hairs on your arms straight up as the unsettled waters of The Pearl and the Parthenon rock you gently from side to side. The latter stages of the song, led by a smooth cello melody, have the subtle backing touches of a horror soundtrack gone awry, as if you expect the dam to break. But rather than break, it bends. It builds to a climax, just in time for Phaistos to take the reigns. The combination of the best guitar riff on the album with what sounds like a xylophone is enchanting, and launches a massively successful buildup. It is this climbing set of guitars, drums, bass and cello that will turn into an earworm; you'll be humming the tune for days.
Whatever your path may have been that brought you to Giant Squid in the first place - by accident, following members from other bands, being directed by a band, or just plain luck - you're here now, and that is all that matters. Regardless of what floor you got in on, the elevator continues to rise, despite the growing weight. We use the term progression in 2014, most often as a way of saying our favorite bands have extended themselves beyond their means, and have jumped the proverbial shark. But with Giant Squid, progression is only natural, adding elements and different standards to the music they make with each and every album release. Rather than follow whatever the current trend may be, they have stayed the course, and rewarded their fans in the process. And that reward, for doing nothing more than showing up and listening? Minoans. Arguably the best album in the catalog.
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