There’s a reason we don’t have an ape, tiger, snake or buzzard week: despite a deep admiration for a large portion of Earth’s animals that are lucky enough to avoid our grocery stores, the greater human population remains mostly possessed by the mighty shark, particularly the great white. Kids love them because they look cool, and apart from the stray orca, they’re basically un-bully-able, which is absolutely exhilarating to most twelve-year-olds. Conversely, adults like them because they essentially do what most of us really, really wish we could do, which is eat whatever the hell we want all day long without consequence.
Adding to their enchantment, great white sharks are scary without even trying. You’ll never see one dressing like a clown and terrorizing their neighborhood, and they don’t generally capture other animals and keep them shackled to an old radiator with a stack of bone-sawing tools within eyeshot. Great whites are scary because they instinctively creep into the picture from dark places, they have a mug literally filled with broken-bottle teeth, their eyes are pitch-black portals into oblivion, and they will absolutely tear your shit up like a wild dog on a pack of Johnsonville brats just because they’re in the mood for a lil’ snack. Boom. Svpport.
Further shark preface: Like a fair portion of our readers, much of our crew is old enough to be direct descendants of the sort of creatures that first left the sea millions of years ago (probably to get away from horrifying Megalodons), and initial visits with Jaws thirty (+ or -) years ago likely marked the earliest and most significant encounter many of us ancients had with said fishies. A vulnerability such as this early on was key in developing a reverent fear and respect of the ocean that’s still acknowledged today. We love sharks, and we love the ocean, but for most of us, neither is explored to its full extent because some mysteries are best kept mysteries, and real monsters prowl the nethermost murk.Jaws the movie, on the other hand, continues to be consumed and digested and fully anatomized by piles of us every year, and it’s prominent enough in the modern age to have transcended the common “movie” tag into a film, so yeah, crucial stuff. A dissertation could be written about the ultimate fortitude of Jaws, but something particularly lovable about it is the fact that what was initially regarded as failings—the scenes that were deemed too violent, and the ongoing issues with the mechanical shark that kept the full glimpse of the fish out of the viewers’ eyes until you see it pass beneath that unsuspecting loser’s skiff in the pond about an hour in—add immeasurably to its overall atmosphere. Additionally, the pleasure realized through the even more rewarding parallel story that is the old sea dog Quint and his tragic, Ahabian pursuit of the great fish is well enough reason for revisitation ad infinitum.
Judgement: the film Jaws is extremely metal, not only due to the intrinsic ferociousness associated with great whites, but also because of the prevailing tragedy attached to the Quint narrative. On September 15th, 2017, fans of metal will finally have a new soundtrack for this enduring sea catastrophe, thanks to Pacifica, CA’s Squalus and their debut LP, The Great Fish…
The first thing people will likely notice is the fact that this record sounds weird. Good weird. A sort of California Bay Area weird that mixes in varying degrees of sludge, punk and doom under a blanketing “progressive” tag that’s shaded with a requisite touch of sea shanty—a concept that becomes extra justifiable upon realizing that four of the members (five, counting the guest appearance) also play in the currently dormant Giant Squid.
Alongside the genre bending, The Great Fish… ups the unique ante by jettisoning the commonplace six-string in favor of doubling up on bass, which delivers a particularly crushing bottom-end that’s intensified by the drum-destroying style of Zack Farwell (Grayceon, Walken). Short and sweet, Squalus seems pretty certain that they know how it would feel to be stalked and eaten by the great white:
H is for helpless, as in you are…
E is for explode, which is what your bowels just did into the sea.
A is for abominable, as in the sitch you currently find yourself in.
V is for very, which is the fucked you will be.
Y is for yolo, as in “You only live once,” but the living part is over now.
The bass work, provided by Aaron J. Gregory and Bryan Beeson, sashays with serious heft throughout most of these 43-minutes, but there are moments when their weight is as heavy as Godzilla cannonballing directly onto a 200,000MT container ship. Are you absolutely kidding me with the end of “Flesh, Bone, and Rubber?” The way that filthy riff cruises in on the wake of those warbling keys at 2:30 and eventually settles into the Mother Of All Struts during the last twenty seconds is pure overweight metal bliss.
Adding to the album’s overall differentness is its confident emphasis on Andrew Southard’s keys, which allow ample space for creeping creepily like John Carpenter, toot-tootering like a seaside boardwalk ditty, straight-up piano’ing, and very often hurtling up and down like some sort of possessed theremin, sometimes all in a single tune.
Release date: September 15th, 2017. Label: Translation Loss.
The most unique selling point, however, deals with the ingenuity behind the band’s approach and how they ultimately deliver Peter Benchley’s story. Rewards are basically reaped from start to finish: the violent means of portraying Quint’s appeal at the town meeting; peppering in gang-shouted demands for a “SHEEP! SHANK!” knot in the midst of “City Hands”; the addition of Jackie Perez Gratz in a far less shrill role of Woman Alerting Everyone to the Shark in the Pond (and her somber cello throughout “He Ate the Light”); plus, AJ’s knack for switching from a snarling ol’ sea dog to a roaring hulk to a half-whispered ode to Scott Kelly weathering on a lost life boat—all prime examples that validate the record’s extensive flair. And possibly the most refreshing detail of them all: they forgo the use of samples swiped directly from the film in favor of what sounds like a local stage production’s reenactment in order to underscore key scenes. Brilliant move.
The Great Fish… is a fantastic album for a great number of reasons, but the comprehensive uniqueness behind the entire approach is the deciding factor that makes it a leading contender for 2017’s “Weirdest Heavy Album I Can’t Stop Listening To” award. And while it would perhaps benefit matters if you obsess over great white sharks, Jaws and ludicrously hefty music, somehow it seems as if this record could draw in most anyone, regardless of predilections, and that’s really something special.