GIANT SQUID – The Ichthyologist (2009)

Giant Squid - The Ichthyologist In metal, it’s good to have a niche, but you have to be careful not to let it get away from you. Cannibal Corpse began their career writing unimaginably violent songs that were so conspicuously over the top that you couldn’t help but bang your head to them. Flash forward twenty years, though, and now bands like that are a dime a dozen, and Cannibal Corpse keep plugging away, writing songs like Skewered from Ear to Eye as if it’s still 1990 and they haven’t yet spawned ten thousand imitators of varying quality. Summation: it’s good to hold onto your niche, especially if you’re niche and your relevance are irreversibly tied together.

Now, Giant Squid are a band whose niche does not seem to be in any danger passing from their reach. Essentially, they play a punishing form of post-metal that also happens to be entirely nautically-focused in both the lyrics and in the evocative quality of the music itself. Listening the band’s previous album, Metridium Fields (metridium senile is the Latin name for the Brown Sea Anemone), you got the sense that the album did not consist of songs, but instead, huge, lumbering behemoths making their way across the ocean floor, their existence unknown to man. The band accomplished this feat by marrying their incredibly down-tuned guitar sound (think Australasia-era Pelican) with some very genre-atypical instruments, including trumpet, theremin and a variety of moog synths. They’d then repeat these passages over and over again, creating an entrancing, exotic and frightening metal album in the process.

Having recently jettisoned from The End Records the band have opted to self-release their newest album, The Ichthyologist (ichthyology is the branch of zoology pertaining to the study of fish). It’s currently limited to 1,000 copies, and I’m unsure as to what other release plans await for the album after those copies are gone, so if you’re at all interested, I’d head on over to the band’s Myspace page and pick one up.

The Ichthyologist is quite a different beast than it’s predecessor is. For one thing, it’s only occasionally a metal album, and when it is, it lacks the heaviness of songs like Neonate and Revolution In The Water. It’s also nowhere near as balanced as Metridium FieldsThe Ichthyologist is an incredibly back-loaded album, saving its best tracks for the final half. Additionally, the music progresses more, and has less of a focus on repetition. It’s a drastic change in sound for the band, and despite some notable guest appearances by Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-lead singer of The Gathering) and Karyn Crisis (of, umm, Crisis), I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Overall, I’m not disappointed with The Ichthyologist; it just wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a surprisingly gentle much of the time (but not all the time, as Throwing A Donner Party At Sea proves). Yet somehow, it still feels like a Giant Squid album, and that right there is key. It means that what makes the band special isn’t tied into whatever sounds they’re working with – it’s something intrinsic instead. So, in that regard, The Ichthyologist is remarkably successful.

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