Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika – Album Review

Artist: Charlie Griffiths

Album Title: Tiktaalika

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 17 June 2022

My love and admiration for the progressive metal band Haken is something with which regular readers of manofmuchmetal.com will be all too familiar. Hell, I even wrote a piece suggesting that Haken might be the best band from the UK currently plying their trade. That thought may resonate, or it might seem like misguided hyperbole but either way, it demonstrates the strength of feeling I have for a band that I have steadfastly followed since the beginning. It was something of a no-brainer then, when I was presented with the opportunity to check out the debut solo album, ‘Tiktaalika’ by Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths.

Handling the guitars, bass, keyboards, as well as writing the material and even singing lead vocals on a song, Griffiths demonstrates just how annoyingly talented he is as a musician on ‘Tiktaalika’. He is then joined throughout the album by drummer Darby Todd (Frost*, Devin Townsend), as well as a number of guest musicians including Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and saxophonist Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett). The list of guest vocalists is also eye-watering, as it includes Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me), Danïel De Jongh (Textures), Vladimir Lalić (Organized Chaos), and Neil Purdy (Luna’s Call).

In anyone’s language, this is a hefty cast of musicians, so undoubtedly, expectations in various quarters were very high. But all of the star names in the world cannot save an album that suffers from poor songwriting, so it is imperative that this is not a stumbling block right at the outset. Thank goodness that Charlie Griffiths is a talented guy and a consummate professional, because almost immediately, I was able to relax and absorb the music on ‘Tiktaalika’ with a smile on my face.

As a side note, whilst there might be some slight play on words with a certain Bay Area thrash band, the bulk of the title of this album is inspired by the ‘Tiktaalik’, an extinct species that was present on Earth some 375 million years ago, a special creature that helped us to better understand the evolution of dinosaurs, fish, and land mammals. I’d never heard of it, so props to Mr Griffiths for making another day a school day. Love that!

My oblique reference to Metallica makes sense from the very get go of ‘Tiktaalika’, because the opening track, ‘Prehistoric Prelude’ begins in a manner that immediately reminds me of the wonderful opening of the classic track, ‘Battery’. When you hear the tone of the acoustic guitar and the chosen melody, you’ll understand. From there, the heaviness cranks up, eventually opening up into a full-on, speedy thrash metal work out complete with energetic riffs, thunderous drumming, and exuberant lead guitar soloing.

One of the big selling points with ‘Tiktaalika’ is Griffith’s return to a six-string guitar with the man himself remarking just how easily the riffs started to come to him. And this album is a proper riff heavy affair that leaves the listener in no doubt about the truth of this statement. ‘Arctic Cemetery’, featuring Tommy Rogers is a microcosm of everything that Charlie Griffiths is clearly striving for with this record; it is subtle, nuanced, heavy, and memorable. But most of all, it is varied, keeping the listener on their toes. It helps that Rogers delivers both his quiet, clean tones as well as his more aggressive style, because it creates another layer of variation. But between the chunky, groovy riffs, delicate melodies, and whimsical, atmospheric chorus, not to mention the numerous peaks and troughs, the song never sits still, with creativity seemingly oozing from every pore.

From there, we’re confronted with further experimentation, seemingly at every turn. ‘Luminous Beings’ is far more progressive in tone, with a stronger jazzy, fusion feel to large portions of it. The vocals of Danïel De Jongh are really excellent, completely in keeping with the soundtrack upon which he sings. The quieter moments allow Griffiths’ not inconsiderable bass talents to come more to the fore too, as he delves deeper into out-and-out prog before pulling us back from the brink with a satisfyingly bruising riff alongside a typically non-standard time signature.

As my favourite track of them all begins, you’re left in no doubt about the quality of the production, handled by Nolly Getgood. It is superb, bringing all of the songs to life. However, ‘In Alluvium’, one of three songs that extends beyond eight minutes, is a stand-out affair. The synth-heavy opening is melodious and enticing with the ensuing mid-paced groove utterly compelling, enhanced by Vladimir Lalić’s singing. The drumming from Darby Todd is marvellous too as the song slowly increases the intensity, dishing out killer riff after killer riff. The one-take keyboard solo courtesy of Jordan Rudess is impressive, but so is the whole song which again acts as a smorgasbord of different styles and inspirations, all wrapped up in some catchy as hell melodies.

I wasn’t originally as much of a fan of ‘Dead In The Water’ given my general dislike of the saxophone but I have been won over for the most part thanks to Griffiths’ songwriting prowess. Once again, the disparate has been forged into something surprisingly cohesive, dominated again by some instantly memorable and muscular progressive metal riffing and a hint of ‘The Mountain’ era Haken. Then there’s the epic-sounding segment that emerges after a brief foray into more extreme metal territory. Neil Purdy’s clean vocals join what feels like an outpouring of melodic emotion, before there’s a clever return to the motif from ‘In Alluvium’ at the death.

On ‘Digging Deeper’, an overall more delicate song, Charlie sings. It’s more of a hushed, delicate and tentative delivery, often strongly effect-laden, but it is a great vehicle to explore another different soundscape. With an echo of ‘Affinity’-era Haken thanks to the chosen samples and electronic effects, it further demonstrates Charlie Griffiths’ desire to keep experimenting.

The title track is an instrumental piece that is positively brimming with exuberance, instant feel-good melody and yes, you’ve guessed it, a ton of riffs. It feels very much as if this was the chance for Griffiths to go all-out and tell the world what an incredible guitarist he is – and he succeeds in the strongest of ways. Blazing solos, clever time signatures, light and shade, and groove by the truck full, it has everything you could want if you’re a lover of the six-string.

And finally, ‘Crawl Walk Run’ rounds things out in tandem with ‘Under Polaris’. The former reminds me a little of bands like latter-day Symphony X thanks to the high tempo and intricate riffs, despite some savage growls from Danïel De Jongh. The latter sees the album come full circle with a return of some impossibly fast guitar work that’s part prog, part thrash akin to the opener. But led by the vocals of Tommy Rogers, it also sees a reprise of several of the melodies seen throughout the album. I love this sort of thing, and it means that, as far as I’m concerned, ‘Tiktaalika’ ends in the strongest and most captivating way possible. The return of the acoustic guitar at the death in particular sends a shiver down my spine.

I had a feeling that ‘Tiktaalika’ would be good, but I wasn’t banking on it being quite this good if I’m being brutally honest. There is much to enjoy about Charlie Griffith’s debut solo effort, and I keep discovering new things with each passing listen too. No doubt it’ll appeal first and foremost to lovers of the guitar and the almighty riff, but given the diversity of the material and the quality of the songs themselves, I’m certain that the appeal of ‘Tiktaalika’ will be much wider, and rightly so. The only problem for Charlie Griffiths now, is how does he go about topping this on his sophomore release? Tune in 375 million years from now to find out!

The Score of Much Metal: 93%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Seven Kingdoms – Zenith

Brutta – Brutta

White Ward – False Light

Winds Of Tragedy – As Time Drifts Away

Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind

Denouncement Pyre – Forever Burning

Truent – Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment

Wind Rose – Warfront

Kardashev – Liminal Rite

Artificial Brain -Artificial Brain

Seventh Wonder – The Testament

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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