There are few things in life that terrify me to my absolute core more than a shark attack. The complete powerlessness of the victim, being toyed with and torn to shreds by a creature alive and thriving in its element; a monarch mercilessly feeding uncontested. No control. No swift escape. Little to no hope of survival. Such fear has been fodder for many famous films, like Spielberg’s Jaws and Scott’s Alien, which give artistic expression to the notion of an unseen enemy, intent only on absolute violence and destruction. Metal, with all its inherent beauties and deep flaws, seems the perfect genre to expand upon this palette of terror musically. Squalus are the latest band to dive deep into the murky waters of oceanic horror with their debut album The Great Fish…, which through its obvious influences seeks to tell a harrowing tale of great sea beasts and their unsavory relationship with man. On nearly every front, it succeeds beautifully.
Squalus, although releasing their debut album, are no noobs to the metal scene, as the majority of the band’s members previously played in the now disbanded Giant Squid (RIP sad tears). Equipped with a new lyricist and a double-bass, keys/synths and drums attack, The Great Fish… fuses doom and sludge elements into a post-metal stew of heavy mayhem that can be as strange as it is merciless, smacking slightly of a drunken Neurosis sitting in a rickety boat screaming sea shanties while sharks encircle the hopelessly leaky vessel. Though categorization is honestly a bit tough when it comes to the sounds Squalus conjure here. This is a band creating a mix of sounds all its own, and we the listeners get to reap the rewards.
Influenced most obviously by the film Jaws, which permeates nearly every lyrical and thematic detail of this record, The Great Fish… churns through stories of shark-infested waters, dreadful encounters, and the titanic struggle between man and nature with relentless verve. Opening title track sets the tone with its intoxicated sailor vocals, cymbal-heavy drum work, and loose bass work, all awash in an almost comforting flood of synth work. The ominous undertone of the bass work here wins the day as the track continues, with the drums kicking into high gear and the vocals moving from creepy drawling to sludge-y wailing, propelling the track into its crushing finale. Subsequent track “Flesh, Bone, and Rubber” continues in this vein (gentler opening, synth/key passages, and light drums), but ratchets up the heaviness in the bass section, allowing the dual bass attack to shine in all of its massive glory. The album is filled with these vacillations between sounds that seem on paper like they could easily contradict one another, but these juxtapositions very rarely miss a beat, giving the album a unique and fluid sound that makes the entirety of the record a diverse and thoroughly enjoyable listen. “Town Meeting” goes hard, while “Swim Charlie, Swim” provides a nice instrumental interlude, mixing some beautiful key work with a crunchy, synth-filled finale that shows the bass hitting some of its lowest, most powerful registers of the record. “Jack the Ripper” highlights the band’s obsessions with Spielberg’s film, utilizing quotes directly from the film for the song’s lyrics. I could go on and on about the references to the film contained in this record, but I think you get the picture. It’s Jaws worship at its finest.
But I want to make one thing abundantly clear: The Great Fish… is no mere tribute album. This band has a great deal going for it sonically, and they utilize their unique line-up and skill-set brilliantly, creating songs that feel uniform in mission and pleasantly diverse in execution. The vocals are equal parts creepy, thunderous, and ponderous. The lyrics bring about an extremely thematic bent to the album, while the instrumentation backs this up by creating a sonic palette that is as enthralling as it is odd and ominous. By tapping into some of humanity’s most primal fears, Squalus have created a fantastic album that feels both fun and substantial, which seems to be an increasingly rare quality in this style of music. The Great Fish… is, on the whole, and incredibly enjoyable album from start to finish, and fans of doom, sludge, and post-metal will all find something to relish here.