First, a quick lesson: tiktaalika refers to tiktaalik roseae, better known as the “fishapod,” a three hundred- and seventy-million-year-old fossil fish which was discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 2004 (I can look things up as well as anybody!). Its discovery sheds light on what is considered a pivotal point in the history of life on Earth, that is when the very first fish ventured out onto land. And how is this relevant to a progressive rock album I hear you ask? Well, the nine tracks on this release draw inspiration from themes of geological time, fossilisation, transformation and humanity’s connections with each other and the planet we inhabit. Fascinating stuff indeed.
Many readers will be familiar with Charlie Griffiths from his day job with British progressive-metallers Haken, for whom he is guitarist. On this release Charlie is able to put to one side for now the eight-string guitar he’s been playing with Haken for a little over ten years and revert to a more standard six string. The change seemed to spur Charlie’s creative process and he found riff after riff falling out of the guitar. From these flowed the song structures and then the vocal melodies and the lyrical content. Charlie says; “It was a great form of escapism from my usual environment and I had a lot of fun doing it”.
This is Charlie’s first solo outing and it finds him largely staying in the progressive metal realm that is familiar to him, although there are inclinations evident from other styles at times. So, there’s a healthy dash of 1980s thrash metal in the mix, along with some of the tech metal of the 1990s. There’s also a liberal portion of alt. rock in the potion. Mixed together, this produces a thunderous sound that is driving and impactful. Often there is no let-up in the sound as the songs progress. There are calmer more nuanced sections, most notably the acoustic guitar that of the opening track Prehistoric Prelude before the heaviness of the electric guitar kicks in and the headbanging commences. Then there are few moments of let up on the album. Arctic Cemetery rocks out before hammering home its message with growly vocalisation. Luminous Beings has the atmosphere and feel of a Steve Hackett piece for a while before lapsing back in to familiar heaviness. In Alluvium has some interesting guitar parts before becoming dense as befits the title, Dead In The Water goes all Dream Theater but with devilish vocals, Digging Deeper is more playful and lighter, whilst the title track is crunchy and driven. Crawl Walk Run hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up and Under Polaris continues in a similar vein.
The album includes contributions from a number of musicians that Charlie invited along. Drums are energetically and precisely played by Darby Todd who might be familiar to you from playing with Martin Barre, Frost, Devin Townsend and others. Keyboard genius Jordan Rudess provides some great contributions, as does Steve Hackett’s saxophonist Rob Townsend, who creates some interesting byplay with the guitars. Charlie himself handles the guitar, bass, keyboard, and some vocal parts. An array of vocalists make contributions. Tommy Rogers from Between the Buried And Me, Danïel De Jongh of Textures, Vladimir Lalić from Organised Chaos and Luna’s Call’s Neil Purdy all lend their throats to the songs. In some instances, literally. Although Charlie had written the parts for the guest artists, he gave them free-reign to do with that what they could to employ their own musical identities.
This is an ambitions album. Most of the time it is a full on, in your face powered experience with brief interludes in calmer waters. But in many ways, it also sees Charlie anchored in his familiar progressive metal territory, albeit with some digressing elements. Then we get to the marmite moments. The use of gravely growled devil voices will take the edge off for some listeners with its associated corniness or juvenilia, while others can still appreciate it for what it is. Having said that, the vocalists do give excellent vocal displays, their differing approaches and styles adding to the songs to some degree. The music that binds this all together is very strong and determined with big production values hinting at something filmic. The intelligence of the song’s meanings gives them some gravitas and depth. A very good album, though with the stipulated riders.
1. Prehistoric Prelude
2. Arctic Cemetery
3. Luminous Beings
4. In Alluvium
5. Dead in the Water
6. Digging Deeper
8. Crawl Walk Run
9. Under Polaris
Charlie Griffiths – guitar, bass, keyboard, vocals
Darby Todd – drums
Jordan Rudess – keyboards
Rob Townsend – saxophone
Tommy Rogers – vocals (tracks 2,9)
Danïel De Jongh – vocals (tracks 3,8)
Vladimir Lalić – vocals (tracks 4,5)
Neil Purdy – vocals (track 5)
Release date: 17th June 2022
Label: InsideOut Music
Formats: Ltd. CD Edition, gatefold 2LP+CD, digital album