Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika: Album Review

Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths gives the Prog Metal template a paleontological tweak.

Release Date: 17th June 2022

Label: Inside Out Music

Format: digital / CD / LP

After Ross Jennings and Richard Henshell, Charlie Griffiths becomes Haken’s third in line to opt for a solo outing. The guitarist is joined by a range of singers – Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried And Me), Danïel De Jongh (Textures), Vladimir Lalić (Organised Chaos) and Neil Purdy (Luna’s Call) – plus a handful of name guests that include current go-to drummer Darby Todd (Martin Barre, Frost, Devin Townsend, Kaipa), keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) and saxophonist Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett).

However, it’s the Griffiths songwriting and guitar prowess that’s the focus of Tiktaalika and for anyone who’s ready to ask the big “WHY?” is Charlie on a solo mission, he provides the answer himself. A simple case of “I picked up the 6 string guitar again, which ironically has become the more unusual option for me, after 10 or so years writing with an 8-string guitar for Haken.’ He’s spoken about how the move shifted him into a different creative headspace, with riff after riff seemingly falling out of the guitar. A journey of rediscovery to all intents and purpose. He calls the creative process “a great form of escapism from my usual environment and I had a lot of fun doing it”.

Bookended by the gentle introductory lull of Prehistoric Prelude that soon shifts gear and the finale of the sonic battery of Under Polaris – the more notes the better in a severe attack of shredding – Tiktaalika combines and indulges in Charlie Griffith’s love of 80s thrash and 90s tech Metal subgenres with some time travelling back to the prehistory of several million years ago. No need for any proof that he’s a seriously skilled technical guitarist – his proficiency is never in question – the album brings together a mix of brutality and beauty. The old contrast of light and shade coming into play in swathes. There’s nothing more effective than following a relaxing mood with a devastating riposte or emerging from a furious lap of intensity into a heavenly calm.

The only question is can his sidekicks keep up? Darby Todd certainly proves his mettle and his current high-ranking status by not only keeping pace but occasionally stretching his neck ahead of the main man, pushing the tempos to infinity and beyond. The growling vocal on Arctic Cemetery only adds to the power and aggression, in stark contrast to the soft picking, the dreamy atmospheres and lullaby vocal that appear in Luminous Beings that follows immediately. The calm after the storm; the beauty and the beast thing that’s an ongoing feature of Tiktaalika.

And like the beast from which the album takes its name, the music is huge and given a crisp and clear production quality. And it’s bold, often intimidating; the lulls offer a sense of (false?) security before the creature raises a threatening head again. The pairing of In Alluvium and Dead In The Water is a potent mix; the latter thunders relentlessly picking up and running with the drama hinted at in the former. On first hearing, it’s both striking and possibly the immediate highlight of the album. The opening part could easily fit seamlessly onto Tool’s Fear Inoculum album.

The title track provides the instrumental centrepiece, the opening passge working the same ballpark as Lark’s Tongues In Aspic – could be part..whatever KC are currently up to. That’s before the styles come and go with the regularity of the tides, the monster raising its head once more as machine gun riffing gives way to pastoral mellowness, a contribution from the bank of weird noises and some mesmeric shredding. ANyone familiar with Charlie’s work in Haken (you probably wouldn’t be reading or listening if you weren’t) can admire the ambition in some impressive writing and playing. With Charlie Griffiths, you wouldn’t expect anything less.

Here’s the video for Luminous Beings:

Charlie Griffiths online: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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