In Tiktaalika, Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths has deftly weaved together near equal amounts progressive, thrash, extreme metal to craft a charming, quirky, and pretty darn delightful debut album.
I’d forgive you for thinking that a concept album “375 million years in the making” can’t be taken seriously. Fact is, these geologically-inspired tunes are gravely serious. Listen to “Arctic Cemetery” if you don’t believe me! Or “Crawl Walk Run” to “Dead in the Water.” Maybe you’re visual—take a gander at the music video for “Luminous Beings.”
There’s no hiding the ball here. Tiktaalika is as peculiar as it is fun. I hesitate to make this comparison, because it’s true more of approach then sound, but there’s a definite Ihsahn-like vibe to the seamless melding of the orthodox and the progressive. While Tiktaalika is more outwardly playful than an Ihsahn album will ever be, there’s a similarly infectious and exploratory feel.
The exploratory feel comes from the fluid transition from one diverse song to the next. And the playfulness comes not just from the comical visual treatment in the music videos but from the odes to bands that obviously influenced pieces of the release’s sound. For example, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the first thirteen seconds of album opener “Prehistoric Prelude” sound quite like the first thirteen seconds of Metallica’s Master of Puppets. Griffiths also buries another MoP riff about 42 seconds into the title track.
Describing just where Tiktaalika lands on progressive, thrash and extreme metal spectrums isn’t an easy task.
On the progressive end – despite the distinct sound Griffiths has established here – there are shades of Haken, particularly when things get noticeably groovier, jazzier, or djentier (“Luminous Beings” and “Dead in the Water”). But there are also songs or passages within songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on, say, a Devin Townsend or Vanden Plas album. Then there are songs such as “Tiktaalika” which, Metallica tribute aside, are very much their own animal. That crawling guitar riff around the 4:13 mark is a particularly nice touch.
On the thrash and extreme end, the solos in “Crawl Walk Run” sound like they could have been pulled from Megadeth’s Rust in Peace and some of the harsher moments from “Arctic Cemetery” and “Dead in the Water” aren’t too far removed from early Shining (NO) or Ihsahn. These aren’t perfect comparisons, but as is inevitable with these
Ultimately, there’s something quite beautiful here. I grew strangely attached to Tiktaalika. And I say strange because life – for me anyway, and I assume for many others – has been so rough the past few years. So rough, in fact, that any sort of emotional investment outside of family is rare. But I felt emotionally invested in this. That moment in “Dead in the Water,” for example – the singing at about 6:45. It’s almost crassly opportunistic in how it so strongly banks on everything building to that point. Right in the feels. Almost Spielbergian in that sense. And if Griffiths has shown one thing with Tiktaalika, it’s that he’s kind of masterful at this stuff. The songwriting stuff. Let’s hope this isn’t a one-off.