Gigan : Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence

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


“I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest.”

Summer of 1987.

This was the summer where I discovered metal. Speed metal, that is. I’d done the classics by the time I’d hit the 7th grade. Made my way through the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Hendrix. AC/DC were in my collection, as well as a good chunk of hair metal. Most of 7th grade was consumed by Poison, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Dokken and Great White. But when summer rolled around, my brother introduced me to speed metal. Speed, thrash, whatever you want to call it. Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Overkill, Metal Church,…my eyes and ears had been opened to the double kick drum, lightning fast guitar riffs, the pained howl vocals, and lyrics that ranged from drug addiction, politics, and devil worship; to teen angst, witchcraft, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. It was the perfect place to land before heading back into Warsaw Middle School to start my 8th grade year.

Like with anything, you’ve got your good and bad metal bands. Most of what I came across I liked. I wasn’t all that picky. One afternoon my mom took me to Butterfly Records in downtown Warsaw and I had some money burning a hole in my pocket so bought Fates Warning’s No Exit. To be honest, I’m not sure why I bought this album. I may have read a review in Metal Edge or Circus. Or quite possibly my older brother may have mentioned them. In order to one up said older brother I may have bought the album before he had a chance. So I left Butterfly Records with No Exit on cassette and headed off to a guitar lesson. On the ride home I popped the cassette tape into the cassette player of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and was impressed. It had twin guitar attack, impressive drumming, and banshee-like vocals with doom-laden lyrics. What more could a 14 year old kid as for?

Fates Warning were an east coast metal band that formed in 1983 out of Connecticut. No Exit was the fourth album and their first with a line up change that included new singer Ray Alder. After experimenting with progressive rock tendencies the band really jumped head first into the progressive/art rock vibe on No Exit. There were acoustic interludes, lyrics about anarchy, death, silent cries, and even a whole side, 21 minute suite called “The Ivory Gate of Dreams”. When their next album dropped the next year in 1989 called Perfect Symmetry they had gone full progressive and were more in line with bands like Queensryche with that Q Prime management vibe; including heady music videos and more expensive hair products. But No Exit still possessed a sense of danger to it. There was still a darkness in the dissonant guitar lines and Alder’s operatic howls. They never hit the drug-fueled doldrums of say Megadeth, or the speed metal delights of Metallica or Slayer, or even the hardcore charms of Anthrax, but it was a great album for an 8th grader to shake his fist to quietly in his bedroom.

On a recent trip to Neat Neat Neat Records I found a super clean copy of No Exit for $10 and instantly nostalgia got the better of me. After about ten minutes of mulling around the store I made my way back to the “F” section of the metal albums and grabbed Fates Warning. I also snagged a copy of Fogg’s High Testament(we’ll talk about that one later.) Was it all warm fuzzies and harkening back to the heyday of my teen speed metal years? No, not really.

Sometimes nostalgia can give you a nice surprise. Recent purchases of albums like Cinderella’s Night Songs, Dokken’s Tooth and Nail, and even older grabs like Van Halen’s Fair Warning and Diver Down showed that I wasn’t all that bad at finding good music to listen to in my pre-teen and teen years. Sadly though, sometimes records don’t age all that well. No Exit, while still probably exactly as it was in 1988, just isn’t that memorable of a record. It’s a sort of paint-by-numbers affair as far as metal albums go.

So basically you’ve got your chugging metal riffs, the galloping metal riffs, and the occasional spritz of thrash thrown in with Fates Warning. Album opener “No Exit” is 41 seconds of sorrowful, dissonant guitars as singer Ray Alder basks in some serious doomy vocals. When I was a teenager it probably sounded a lot better. Now it just sounds out of tune(God, I’m old.) “Anarchy Divine” goes in hard with some decent thrash moments and some nice tempo changes. Alder, to me, sounds like a poor man’s Joey Belladonna. He hits those high notes well enough, but there’s no heft there. Even Geoff Tate had some color behind his wailing. “Silent Cries” hints at a more progressive sound the band would dig into with their next album, Perfect Symmetry. It’s not bad, but it just doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no “oomph”. “In A Word” is the obligatory acoustic number all metal bands felt they needed to include back in the 80s. I guess it’s supposed to show off the soulful side of the band. Meh. I’d rather listen to Lizzy Borden, to be quite honest. “Shades Of Heavenly Death” has some nice early Anthrax vibes, but man those vocals just kind of bring everything down. I just can’t get into that wailing. “The Ivory Gates of Dreams” is the nearly 22-minute opus and works the best here. Alder keeps his vocals controlled here, and the band does a nice job of tempo changes and mixing up the art rock vibe with straight up speed metal. This takes up all of side B and I could see what I saw in these guys in the first place.

By 1989 the rough edges that were present on No Exit were mostly shaved off. In their place was arty, Rush-inspired progressive rock. It was a little more Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and less Mercyful Fate’s Melissa. Fates Warning is still a quality progressive rock band, but No Exit won’t be spun again any time soon. Sometimes the past just needs to stay in the past I suppose. Let those sleeping dogs lie. Or those old rock records continue to collect dust in my memory.