As I find myself getting further and further away from being a young man and am firmly walking the path of a middle-aged dude, I find myself expanding my brain in ways that young man never tried. No, I’m not eating peyote and going on spiritual journeys, or skydiving over miles and miles of Midwest acreage. I’m not buying sports cars or getting into firearms(you know, to protect me and my own from the Communist droves disguised as bearded hipsters.) And no, I’m not taking adult learning classes at the local community college so I can learn Spanish or how to build a computer from the ground up.
I’m expanding my mind with extreme metal.
Yes, my midlife crisis is shoving doom, speed, and death metal into my head. 20 years ago I was all about power pop, Much Music, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Sure, there were other bands I was digging at the time. But by 1997 metal was so done. So commercial. This was the time of eyeliner-wearing Metallica, nu metal, and the overall mellowing of metal. Screaming in metal went from sounding vicious and frightening to sounding more like a temper tantrum. It didn’t carry the weight it once did. There were occasional moments of reminiscing with my older brother in the garage with one too many beers and smokes where we’d pop in some Slayer or Corrosion of Conformity and have ourselves a grand old time till 1am. But for the most, part I was out of the metal game.
Then a couple years ago I started to get the itch for something more extreme. I wanted to feel that rush I used to get when I’d put on Seasons In The Abyss and Ride The Lightning. I started collecting some of the classic metal records on vinyl. Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, and the first four Sabbath records. Then I got a sweet copy of Sleep’s Dopesmoker and then fell into High On Fire. Found myself digging Deafheaven and Ufomammut. Electric Wizard and Beasts In The Field.
I was back in the metal game. Big time.
So this past week I’ve found myself trolling through various “best of” lists from different music rags and came across a best of extreme metal list. After burning through a bunch of Zdzisław Beksiński-looking album covers I came across Gigan’s Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence. The album cover instantly grabbed me. Bright, radioactive greens, very sci-fi-meets-cyberpunk-purgatory vibe going on. It’s this cloaked being looking out into some spatial, existential void(it pretty much sums up every morning as I walk into work.) There were a couple albums that peaked my interest, but dammit Gigan won me over with their album art, album title, and song titles like “Elemental Transmography”, “Plume Of Ink Within A Vacuum”, and “Hideous Wailing Of The Ronowen During Nightshade”. There was an element of batshit crazy staring at me and I felt I needed to explore. I’ve been exploring for about a week now and I think I’m starting to unlock the madness on this album, but I’m nowhere even close to understanding what the hell I’m hearing on Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence. But that’s what makes it so much goddamn fun.
It’s very rare that I can get into that “Cookie Monster” singing when it comes to metal. I prefer actual singing. It took me forever to get past the screaming in Deafheaven, but I finally found my in with them. Gigan is a Chicago three-piece that consists of Eric Hersemann on bass, guitars, synthesizer, theremin, and xylophone, Nate Cotton on drums, and Jerry Kavouriaris on vocals. When I say vocals I mean growling through what sounds like blood, glass, and a thousand tortured souls. As I’m typing this I’m still not sure if I can ever find my “happy place” with those bloody belches, but that’s just me. The music is the real treat here. Imagine Voivod, King Crimson, Cannibal Corpse, and early Mastodon all coming together freaking out on mescaline and being pulled through a demonic wormhole into a nuclear purgatory. If you can hear that you’re getting close to Gigan’s ultraviolent music trip.
Opening track “Wade Forward Through Matter And Backwards Through Time” moves from space-y grooves into chaotic madness that sounds like the band being ripped apart by intergalactic demons, then back into some sickly rhythms. Hersemann is like a mad genius on the guitar. His work sounds both improvisational and well-calculated. He chases the drums like a buzzing, poisonous creature out for destruction. I know there’s more instrumentation going on in there, but for the life of me I can’t tell a theremin from the guitar from the xylophone(?). It really doesn’t matter, though. I think the purpose here is to overwhelm, and overwhelm they do. “Elemental Transmography” sounds like a thousand android steed being ridden by ghostly alien life forces marching across an aluminum-lined field firing lasers from their eyes and nostrils as the meek that were supposed to inherit the earth burn to ash. It’s kind of an uptempo number, really. Nate Cotton’s drumming throughout is absolutely intense. It’s like Dave Lombardo doing his best Tony Williams impression with hornets stinging him constantly. It’s well-constructed madness. One minute he’s locked into a groove and the next he sounds like the little engine that could destroy all existence.
Musically Gigan is all over the place. One of the things that caught my attention when I first discovered them was the descriptor “psychedelic”. I love the idea of hallucinatory passages in extreme metal. But this isn’t the hippy dippy, color blots on a white screen kind of psychedelia. This is eating a pound of angel dust and then sitting through a Gaspar Noe movie marathon. These trips make Hubert Selby Jr’s writing seem more like Dr. Seuss. If you’ve ever read Grant Morrison’s Nameless you might get an idea of the type of hallucinatory, psychedelic madness going on here. The execution here is precise, but if you’re “distance” listening to Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence you’re going to wonder what in the hell are you hearing. Distance listening is when you’re listening while cooking dinner, or picking up the house. Or in my case I was at work with the speakers down low. Listening to something like “Ocular Wavelengths’ Floral Obstructions” when you can’t hear it all that well or you’re trying to input data is a recipe for “WTF?” Sitting at home with the headphones on really opened my mind to what these guys are doing. It’s still kind of an endurance test, but repeated listens delivers many aural rewards.
This album is one sonic psyche-shredding after another. It’s like melodic white noise. “Hideous Wailing Of The Ronowen”, “Hyperjump-Ritual Madness”, and album closer “In Between, Throughout Form And Void” run the gamut of speed of light shredding and melting into the universe as your family watches in horror. Despite all this overwhelming sensory overload I still keep coming back to this album. There’s something very unique about these guys. Maybe it’s the sci-fi, space madness vibe. Or maybe it’s the musical intricacies hidden under the hornet’s buzz squall. It’s probably not the cookie monster vocal madness, but that’s growing on me as well. Gigan paint in extremely abstract brush strokes, and usually with chewed up brushes and exotic colors. Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence is disturbing and challenging in the best ways possible.
Does this qualify for a mid-life crisis? If so, I’m good with it.
8.5 out of 10