Metridium Fields is an eating machine, swallowing broad swaths of the musical panorama and squeezing out a dinosaur dump of mythic proportions. The general sound is as much brachiosaurus as elusive sea beast -- plodding dropped-tuned sludge metal walking side-by-side with Arabian instrumentals and forlorn indie-rock songwriting. Plaintive trumpet lines burble up unexpectedly, adding to the gloom from analog synthesizer drones and one-fingered power chords. Mastodon may have its great white whale, but Metridium Fields proves there's room for more than one leviathan in the Eclectic Metal Sea.
Engineered by Billy Anderson (High on Fire, Melvins, Mr. Bungle) and produced by Jason Rufuss Sewell, Metridium Fields is a remake of Giant Squid's debut album, which the members released themselves. There is a decided looseness to the performance quality. It's not amateurish, but it lacks the obsessive precision of most heavy metal, bringing a sincerity that outshines professional gloss. Based on the variety of influences here, that relative looseness seems less a matter of capability than it is a result of a band composed of members who grew up listening to different things and found a common ground in the gloom and doom stoner rock at its core.
Aaron Gregory and his wife Aurielle play guitars and share vocal duty. His lead vocals range from a Serj Tankian-inflected wail to the guttural bass rasp of the black-metal genre. Hers tend toward lilting, eerie coos that summon images of the soundtrack the aftermath of an epic Tolkien battle. She steals the show in the coda of the nine-and-a-half-minute "Versus the Siren," coming on the heels of, in order, a lengthy, bruising two-chord vamp; an '80s-style keyboard tone and riff that recedes while the drums pound a heavy beat; then several minutes of tight, crunchy distorted full-band hits. It is gorgeous, powerful, and heartbreaking, and somehow it works perfectly.
The album's highlight is the twenty-one-minute "Metridium Field," which begins in an Explosions in the Sky/Pelican/Mogwai vein, with slow Mellotron-y keys and slowly picked minor guitar in a chord progression that repeats and builds in volume with few variations until the five-minute mark. A distorted synth line straight out of Gary Numan's nightmares emerges, backed by an otherworldly lupine howl. A blues riff on a toy-like organ and scattershot trumpet is eventually met by a high keyboard chord that is droned throughout the remainder of the piece, occasionally bending in pitch, evocative of that particular ear ringing that can only come from rehearsing bombastic post-rock metal without earphones. That the bizarre instrumentation supports the overall feel of the song and the record without feeling overbearing or pretentious is a marvel.
***"Neonate" MP3: http://media.theendrecords.com/GiantSquid-Neonate.mp3
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