Review GIANTSKY – Giant Sky II – by John Wenlock-Smith

GIANTSKY‘Giant Sky II’ is unusual for me in that it is well outside of any comfort zone that I occupy. This album, though it interests me, it’s a challenge and that makes it worthy of my time and effort, it’s good to be challenged musically at times and who knows what you may discover on the way…

So that is the attitude in which I approached this album, knowing absolutely nothing about the project except the blurb that says it is a amalgam of musical styles and influences including Nick Drake, Mogwai, shoegaze (whatever that means?) and, last but not least, the Blade Runner soundtrack, well that certainly piqued my interest as I consider Blade Runner and its soundtrack to be utter masterpieces.

Looking at a dictionary definition of ‘shoegaze’ in music it is revealed to be ‘A style of rock music in which the distinctions between separate instruments and vocals are blurred’, this term apparently came from bands who had that sound in part because they were looking down at effects pedals used in making it, which helps a little I guess.

Let’s get down to the main event; GIANTSKY are from Norway, main man Erlend Viken is the songwriter for Soup and this is a collaboration with the Trondheim Symphonic OrchestraCombos, WZRD, Motorpsycho, Hanne Mjøen and more.

So what is all the fuss about or is it just hyperbole, does this have any musical merit or is it just tosh? Read on to find out…

The album opens, as does almost every progressive influenced or affiliated album nowadays, with Origin Of Species, an instrumental with a growling synth and almost Close Encounters Of The Third Kind notes that shimmer in the sound before a broader sweep of orchestrations is introduced. It’s all very effective and fairly traditional in tone, which cannot be said of the next track, Imposter, which begins with an acoustic guitar chugging with an echoed,reverbed vocal and the introduction of a fine female vocal. A distorted, fuzzy guitar then briefly enters the fray before disappearing, the female voice returning before a guitar and synth solo appears and the guitar solo plays out for the remainder of the track. Speak Through Walls opens with gentle acoustic guitar and a delicate female vocal once more, The track has some fine piano lines and also some lovely orchestral events (initially the flute) which sound really grand. A deep synth bass is added to the sound palette and the tinkling piano evokes Blade Runner, as does the sequence where an effect laden guitar plays with good use of tremolo effects. The latter part of the song is very busy and intense in sound, almost bordering on distortion, but it’s still a highly effective track nonetheless.

Space Farrier opens with piano and synths before an electronic drumbeat is added, all very 1980’s in tone, making it very intriguing. The songs then gains in intensity and the drums become more intense than before. This track is instrumental throughout its duration with great effects in the middle section, all very over the top and Hawkwind like in parts before the tinkling piano returns to tame the sound somewhat. A heavier synth bass is added to the mix most effectively as the track draws to a close ,with more tinkling piano. A very impressive track that segues into The Present with engagingly gentle guitar and keyboard washes which create big open sounds that compliment the narrative from Eckhart Tolle. To The Pensieve is far more moody and downbeat in tone and amidst it all are lots of chattering synths and a graceful piano along with more tremelo guitar lines. It is actually rather sweet and gentle, I really like this track as it has a great atmosphere to its sound. The song wells in the middle part, growing in intensity as it builds up in power before returning to the gentle sound once again with more flute and woodwinds playing. A couple of shorter tracks follow, namely Dispatch Of Species and Curbing Lights, the former is an atmospheric instrumental with a drone type melody and what sounds like a pipe organ, especially in the bottom end. Curbing Lights is a more sprightly number with synth and what sounds like Theramin effects and a busy drum pattern playing around everything in what is almost a wall of sound, it is very effective indeed.

The album’s longest track I Am The Night opens pretty gently with more piano and a good bass line sitting alongside the acoustic guitar. An electric guitar line then plays joined by ethereal vocals before a strong bass motif is played and a flute joins in. This is superbly constructed and performed, a double bass drum rhythm and then a decidedly more aggressive section begins with increasing sound and intensity. There are some impressive guitar lines added within the overall sound and, as such, are perhaps a little buried in the mix by all that is happening around it. It is definitely an interesting track but one that is maybe too busy at times, which stops it being the best track on the album, just my opinion though! Birds With Borders opens with a lovely folk section and more fine vocals. This initially gentle song builds in its intensity, creating its own unique voice in the journey and it certainly makes a mark, as do the excellent orchestrations that form part of its sound. Tables Turn is a harder sounding track with great effects and excellent male and female vocals, almost heading into atmospheric ambient territory. The penultimate track is King In  Yellow and it’s very interesting with lots going on and lots of orchestral embellishments along with a slow burning, almost sedate, rhythm section and lots of effects. There’s a sustained, almost Mike Oldfield-like biting guitar line within the mix as it powers onwards. It may only be a short track but, for me, it’s a great one that really connects.The album closes with Seeds which has another gentle opening, with duetting vocals, a sturdy piano motif and swirling sounds. It’s pretty lush overall with fine synth lines, all heavily modulated which sound really effective as they build and climb well, taking the song forward. A great guitar line is played as the song begins to wind down. This track is well delivered and epic in tone and it sounds really good, especially on headphones, as the song and album end on long sustained tones.

I really can’t quite make up my mind about this album, it certainly is very interesting, immersive and sounds fantastic in parts. However, I personally found it overlong and at times difficult to really get into, perhaps I need to hear the first album and then this one played one after the other. There’s no denying the musicianship and songwriting skills on show but I would suggest that you listen first before investing, it’s your choice.

Released 1st December, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here: