Review: Squalus Delivers a Fitting Tribute in The Great Fish…
Take a swim in riff infested waters with this debut album by Squalus. When this album first hit my inbox, I was wondering how a shark-themed album was going to avoid the motifs of the universally beloved 1975 film. Upon opening the files and seeing the track names, it became apparent that Squalus said to hell with all that, we’re making a Jaws album.
After the Agalloch breakup, a majority of that band teamed up with the vocalist from Giant Squid to form Khorada (who still haven’t released a goddamn thing), but most of Giant Squid continued (without the cello) and logically became Squalus, and keeping with the theme, wrote an album about a giant shark.
This very unlikely combination of two basses, drums, and a synth comes together to create a surprisingly palatable but still wholly weird album. The pitch-modulated sound captures a sort of retro-classic style that John Williams wouldn’t touch with a 25-foot great white, but somehow mimics the intensity and foreboding nature of the classic score. I’m totally shocked that I didn’t grow annoyed with the lack of guitar, but where a higher tuned bass doesn’t fill the gaps, the wild and fuzzy synth does.
The drunken sailor vocals are a bit comical at times, but when the songs kick into full-throttle, they shift to something a bit more expected in the sludgy/post-metal world. Perhaps they are attempting to copy the Robert Shaw character (RIP, he sacrificed his life for our sins) when laying down some of the narrative, which helps the whole thing ride that line between being sincere and in jest. This duality is echoed in the way the dark and plodding drum and bass combo combines with the somewhat lighthearted buzz-saw synth. They are aware of the absurdity of writing a tribute album to the 42-year old film, but still, they don’t let that get in the way of great experimental music.
The eleven brief tracks tell an abbreviated version of the film, even including direct dialog from a few characters. The longest track, “The USS Indianapolis” uses the entire Robert Shaw monolog about his previous encounter with the beasts in the sea. After the insanity that is the previous 8 tracks, this one starts slow with a calming piano tune that transitions flawlessly back into their signature sound. Of course, the section wouldn’t be complete without the “Show Me the Way to Go Home” sea shanty leading into the final showdown.
So many things are spectacularly right with this album, including the upbeat punk attitude in “Town Meeting”, the extra vocal power and crushing drums in “Eating Machine in the Pond”, to the crushing cathartic finale of “He Ate the Light”.
In closing, Jaws is socialist propaganda that shows the harmful nature of unregulated businesses. Fuck you, Mayor Vaughn.