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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Giant Squid

Metridium Fields

Review by Gary Hill

It seems as though the boundaries of what is "progressive rock" are always a somewhat steadily changing and elusive border. Surely part of what the original progressive bands were doing was throwing away all boundaries in favor of simply creating. Well, in that case, if not for any other reason, Giant Squid fits firmly in the progressive rock vein. I really find it hard to believe you've ever heard another band that sounds like Giant Squid. Those who are familiar with doom metal might have a clue. That style takes the heavy sound of classic metal bands like Black Sabbath and turns it into long jam band type excursions. In general the focus is on playing a fairly simple chord progression over and over while alternating the sounds and textures (both of it and the accompaniment) for long periods of time. Certainly Giant Squid shares a lot of the concept with those groups, and at times they do reach toward the same musical inspirations. The thing is they have stretched beyond that and also taken on psychedelic and prog textures into their musical collage. The result is a sound that works far more often than it doesn't. That sound can also get extremely powerful at times. This may not be your Father's progressive rock, but I'd call it prog. I'd also call it a great album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Megaptera in the Delta
This is an introductory piece that's basically just atmospheric sounds. It's not much as it runs less than a minute.
Neonate
Wow, this thunders in with a noisy sort of doom metal approach. The thing is, that sound doesn't hold it forever. In fact, as it moves out into the song proper this feels like a heavier Iron Butterfly and has hints of Hawkwind in the mix. They drop it back to a playful, fairly mellow approach later for a nice change up. As they move back out to the earlier modes they incorporate some definite Eastern tones and pump up the intensity a bit. They move it between these varying themes to carry a good deal of the track. It shifts out into a metallic piece of Crimson weirdness later. Then they twist it around into a total traditional Middle Eastern musical journey. Eventually a screaming noisy crescendo gives way to a piano. Other instruments eventually join and this turns to dissonant neo-symphonic oddities to end.
Versus the Siren
Keyboards start it tentatively and then they move out into something that feels like a smooth fusion groove. The track turns psychedelic as the vocals and other elements enter. They keep it sedate and pretty, though. This really has the texture of a progressive rock ballad here. More jazz like tones are added later, but they still don't change up the basic form of the piece. In fact they move it back to where it came from for a return of the vocals. At about 4 and a half minutes in (the track clocks in at just under nine and a half minutes) a more rocking sort of texture takes it, but they still put enough intriguing layers of sound to keep a prog sensibility on it. They move this through a number of changes, but eventually turn it toward the uber-heavy to carry onward. They run through like that for a few measures then drop it back to atmosphere to begin recreating the track ever so gradually. The jazz elements come back to the take the track, in a very quiet fashion, eventually to its ending.
Ampullae of Lorenzini
The slow plodding sound that starts this is a bit odd, and hard to define. I'd have to put it along the lines of some of the early Alice Cooper sounds, but with more of a progressive rock texture to it. As this carries forward, though, it cranks out into more metallic fury for the verses. After this they drop it down to an extremely evocative progressive rock ballad sort of approach. While this reminds me a bit of Renaissance there is still a fuzz guitar lurking underneath the layers of vocals and other instrumentation. This progresses out after a time to a more sparse arrangement. They pound it back up for the next verse, though. This has an almost epic metal feel here, but also calls to mind later era Pink Floyd a little. A fast paced, but quite sedate (at least in comparison) musical excursion takes it into its next journey into unexplored territory. It's an exceptionally captivating part of the trip with the instruments conspiring to create drama and power. They heavy it back up after this, though. It also gains a dramatic power and presence here through the layers of accompaniment and vocal performance. While this song shows of hints of Black Sabbath and the like the main musical themes make one think of classic Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd. Whoever you might think this reminds you of, though, this dynamic mini epic (it is another that clocks in at over 9 minutes) is one of the best pieces of music on the CD. The truth is it's one of the most intriguing and powerful pieces of composition I've heard in a long time. This one has a way of grabbing you and holding you. In some ways the plodding segment that extends out late and serves as the outro reminds me both of Black Sabbath and of King Crimson's Red era. All I'm left thinking when this one ends is, "repeat."
Summit
After the last couple tracks this one at less than seven minutes seems short. It starts with a winter storm warning on the radio. Acoustic guitar and a pretty voice rise up to move this one in a dramatic way. As the actual verse comes in it is in the form of a pair of male and female voices linked over this odd ballad style that feels looped. After a verse they turn it a bit more lively by pumping it up a little. The thing is, just as it feels like it might explode out they drop it back to the ballad style that preceded it. They eventually make the same kind of transition as before, but perhaps a bit more slowly and drawn out. Once again just as they seem on the verge of blasting into new territory they drop it back, this time to atmospheric zones. It's only a short respite on this occurrence, though as the song launches out into a harder edged jam that has some Radiohead type sounds woven into its musical tapestry. This heavier jam keeps hold of the piece for the rest of its duration. It ends abruptly.
Eating Machine
At less than a minute, in length, this is a piece of weirdness that is based on whale song and a weird spoken voice and effects.
Revolution in the Water
Other than the two short interludes, this five and a half plus minute piece is the shortest one on the CD. It pounds in with a punky fury and again the Radiohead sort of textures are prevalent here. They move this through a number of brief and diverse segments before dropping it way back to a rather odd textured mellower movement to continue. It has exceptionally heavy segments, mellower pieces and some harder rocking ones. This one is just a bit hard to get a grasp on. I'm not overly crazy about it, but it could be that it has a higher learning curve than a lot of the disc. It does have some of the most extreme and metallic music on show here. Plus it's exceptionally dynamic. Both of these can contribute to it taking a while - time that I haven't had - to fully appreciate the cut. It has its moments, but just hasn't gotten its claws in me yet.
Metridium Field
Make sure you have the time to fully devote to this one. Not only is this epic by far the longest cut on show here (over twenty one minutes) it's also the strongest. This is the artistic apex of the disc and not one to be missed. The sounds of nature start this, and then a mellow balladic type style starts it with spoken sound bites playing over the top. It grows slowly and organically just adding to the power of the piece a bit. This segment gets quite pretty and dramatic as it moves forward. It's not until about four and a half minutes that they change up this Pink Floyd like segment. Even then, it's less about altering than it is about bringing a doom metal feel (still tempered by prog overtones) to the melody. This turns more intense, but not really heavier, as the vocals enter and carry it onward. Keyboards accentuate this structure in a great prog rock style. I particularly like the keyboard solo that takes it at around nine minutes in. It has a great retro texture. In a bit of a surprise a jazzy horn solo enters at around the ten or eleven minute mark. After a few minutes like this, and while it still is carrying on with the jazz jamming, the keyboards begin a bending modulation pattern. As they approach the fourteen-minute mark those horns drop out of the mix. This cut doesn't really change up the progression or structure much at all, but in fact relies on alterations of the overlayers and cross currents to create the power and beauty, and it works like a charm. This is an awesome choice to close the disc and has me ready to start the CD over every time.
 
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