Maybe it’s hardened cynicism, but I’m always wary of stuff that seems to be too much of a good thing. Several great elements in the same place doesn’t necessarily denote something great: if you put Nietzsche, Stravinsky, Monet, and Ingmar Bergman in a room together, you wouldn’t get a challenging, dense, beautiful piece of genre-defying art, but most likely some awkward conversation, a lot of black clothing, and probably some pockets stuffed with hors d’oeurves before heading back to wherever they came from (probably using a time machine in some cases). Same thing goes for bands: whenever a band combines two or more things you like, it’s usually just those two or more things independent of eachother in the same place, never really working off each other to produce some substantive.

That substantive quality is what makes me REALLY wary of bands like progressive deathgrinders Gigan, especially considering the glut of (extreme metal genre) + (psychedelic noise) = QUALITY METAL, RIGHT??? acts from the last few years. But though proggy inclinations aren’t anything particularly fresh right now, Gigan utilize them well, breaking up vicious deathgrind with a spirited jaunt on the outskirts of metal before running back in. The difference between them and the throng of Cynic-fellating bands that have been kicking around as of late is that Gigan have personality beneath their guitar wanking and trippy asides, particularly evident on their sophomore effort, Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes. It all goes together because it has to, not because they want it to. Though that may be a subtle distinction, a little goes a long way in this case.

The big difference between Gigan and other bands of their ilk is Gigan’s sense of purpose. There’s connective tissue between their metal parts and their psychedelic portions. The band are obsessed with sheets of sound, be it Hate Eternal-style chaotic death metal, Dillinger-style tech-grind, or sinewy prog lost in synthesized noise and guitar drowning in echo. Quasi-Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes sounds like, well, just that: vast, chaotic transmissions often illegible to the sober mind. But after a while, it reveals itself to have a logic behind it. The songs are all well-written, the riffs bizarre but solid, and the overall vibe loose and appealing: “Vaspelmadeen Terror” starts off with a fine brutal death riff, then morphs into chaotic grind with robo-voice over it; “Transmogrification Into Bio-Luminoid” bobs and weaves between nihilistic deathgrind, hazy prog, and math-y time signature motherfuckery; and closer “The Fathomless Echoes of Imagination’s Eternity” is a great illustration of what Gigan do best, all before bowing out to two minutes of unnerving ambient guitar noise. Often impenetrable and pretentious? Arguably, yes. But does it work? Almost always, of course.

The heart of the band — multi-instrumentalist Eric Hensemenn — has a great on-record relationship with drummer Kaish. Whenever one goes off the deep end (Kaish plays with all the subtlety and restraint of Remission-era Brann Dailor), the other holds down the fort: when Hensemenn gets noodly, the drums are well anchored. And, inversely, whenever the drums get flashy (dude has an affinity for four-armed fills and gravity-blasts), a solid riff puts its head down and gets right to work (see: the dexterous opening to “The Raven and the Crow“). That relationship is what makes the album such a fascinating repeat listen. QHSL is a brilliant meeting at the crossroad between proficiency and atmosphere. An album that should be cheap and gimmicky — a deathgrind band with krazy psychedelic parts writes songs about monsters!– instead lives up to its own hype. While I still generally reserve judgment toward things that seem to good to be true, Gigan are truly… well, good. There’s something to be said for finding pleasure in something so overtly pleasurable.

(3 ½ out of 5 horns)


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