First things first. Squalus is 4/5 of the band, Giant Squid. Giant Squid were self-proclaimed “prog” sludge metal. Those elements all remain here on The Great Fish as Squalus paddle forward. Pertaining to the absent fifth member, Squalus does not fill the guitar slot. Rather, the band doubles up on bass guitars and rolls with keys and drums. From Giant Squid to the moniker of Squalus, a type of dogfish (sharks), these four chaps illustrate their fiery affection for the foreboding dangers of oceanic depths. The Great Fish exhibits certain strengths while calling a niche audience to listen.
Upon first listen, the eschewing of six strings hones attention to the other instruments; especially the keys which protrude from each track. And when the word “keys” is utilized, the plural is intentional. There are synths and straight piano key sounds on deck. The odd configurations of rhythms and time signatures throughout elicit the prog-rock feel. But the execution illustrates a (deceptively) simpler, more direct instrumentation which conjures eclectic influences. While most likely not an influence, the Florida swamp sideshow orchestra, Viva Le Vox, comes to mind with The Great Fish emanating a weirdly alluring circus vibe and a cautious bog of peril. Also, we hear some aspects of sonic schizophrenia akin to Faith No More; not in sound but approach. But the roots are filthy riffs of raw rock and roll.
Parts of The Great Fish evoke Giant Squid’s Minoans but instead of gentle tangents we get quirky. Again the foundation definitely harnesses sludge elements. But the piano – while most doom or garage bands striving for an eerie sound would defer to a traditional Hammond B3 sound – this cleaner piano sound (still probably on a synth) adds a macabre atmosphere. “Eating Machine in the Pond” distinctly pulls from the churning dark synth reverb (layered with the normal piano) of John Carpenter as it births a pummeling rhythm section; grinding, bellowing.
Instead of squealing guitar leads, the keys reel and spit. “The USS Indianapolis”, although it started out with funky jazz diversion, almost calming, certainly hypnotic, eventually dives deep into the fathoms of torment. The beginning is Smooth and perky – and then the, well, squall crashes into the track with big movements. Noise and confusion drown the listener in a barrage of low end splendor.
The successive openers – “The Great Fish” and “Flesh Bone and Rubber” – are engaging and promising. Gnarly, jangly bass riffs and provocative drums charge along with growling vocals. The quick (under 3 minutes) duration of “Town Meeting” swirls in a chaotic deluge. The repetition of chainsaw synths, banging; ripple out with early Murder City Devils type rock and roll.
If you have not pieced it all together from the song titles, The Great Fish is about Spielberg’s 1975, JAWS. I would assume the lyrics are of “Town Meeting” are Quint’s proposal at the town meeting, screamed; especially since the track ends with the vocals stating the Mayor’s unsteady reply of the film. Tracks dedicated to the Cassie Taylor autopsy by Hooper, “Jack the Ripper” – a reference from the film to the English whore slayer, and other aspects of the film are exciting for any fan of the leviathan of summer blockbusters; when art and craft could be hooked to mainstream money maker, luring in thrill seekers and cinephiles.
“The Orca” proves that chaos is a fine instrument to wield. The cacophony and rage emanate from the track, relentlessly churning. A sweet 90 second melody on a piano ushers us into the lapping thumps of “Swim Charlie, Swim”. The bass line and synth wrestle for dominance. It’s a cool instrumental.
Ultimately, for a doom/sludge/stoner/noise fan, The Great Fish has to be compared with Akimbo’s Jersey Shore. It’s impossible not to do so. In 2010, Akimbo released a stellar noise rock album of 6 tracks about the 1916 bull shark which menaced New Jersey, killing four people. Matawan (July 12), Spring Heaven (July 6), and Beach Haven (July 1).
The Great Fish doesn’t adhere that strictly to such a concept, more just singing related songs inspired by JAWS. There is not a three act structure or anything. But The Great Fish is a fun romp, flailing and splashing; disturbing any notions of security like the opening scene of JAWS. A detractor, in my opinion, is that Squalus reiterate narration and quotes from JAWS instead of sampling. While most certainly a monetary decision, the replacement is distracting to me because with speeches or quotes from such a recognizable film, it is confusing to hear it spoken in a new voice, especially one recalling Billy Bob Thornton from Sling Blade.
The vinyl is fitting and damn gorgeous, boasting two choices of oceanic blue or blood splatter red on blue. The packaging is stellar with a cover of a painting by member, Aaron John Gregory, uncomfortably inspecting a close up of a great white. Again, this record is fun. And it is a concept album but it is not precisely chronological or regimented as a dramatic arc. Which is fine. It doesn’t try to be. It’s dirty metal fueled by adoration for a great film.
RIYL: Brain Tentacles, Ahab, Akimbo, Intronaut, Maserati, John Carpenter, Goblin