Review: The Ocean ‘Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic’
At the ripe old age of twenty, and now due to release their eighth studio album, prog metal meisters The Ocean are at their most vibrant on this new release, and definitely a contender for ‘mouthful of the year’ album title, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic. It’s an incredibly sophisticated affair, and I’m going to apologise in advance if my newbie ramblings offend the elitistfan base of such an interesting band.
To be fair, just to keep you reading, I’m going to jump straight in, and declare that I absolutely loved this new album. I feel like I’m definitely late to the party, but what I’ve learned is this…When it comes to soaring progressive metal, with layers of avant-garde post metal, The Ocean are truly masters at play.
For anyone who has been hiding in a deep dark cave like me, then you’re probably unaware of how The Ocean is formed. Well, they’re the brainchild of Robin Staps, and through the last twenty years, and after a few lineup changes, The Ocean twenty twenty is now formed of Robin on guitar, with David Ramis Åhfeldt on accompanying guitar, and Mattias Hägerstrand on bass. Paul Seidel assumes drum duties, and Peter Voigtmann hammers keys on the synths, while Loïc Rossetti completes the ensemble vocally. While this is the core of the band, on several tracks, they have guest vocalists, including the one and only Jonas Renkse of Katatonia, and Tomas Liljedahl of Breach.
As for the album itself, it is an indulgent fifty-one minutes of immersive sounds, highs and lows, and listening to the vocal performances weave in and out is a revelation. Not ones for having a single vocalist, and being defined by a specific tone vocally, the use of several different artists truly lifts this to a different level. Over eight tracks we’re taken on a journey, there are ambient moments, weaved perfectly around fast, sludgy passages, and its truly a mark of the musicianship to just how compelling it makes this work.
As opener Triassic begins, the strong doom and prog vibes steer us toward a Katatonia vibe, and once the chorus starts to approach, the pace quickens. It crashes in to a chorus passage, filled with pounding drums and gutturalgrowls, layered over some epically heavy riffage. As it shifts and bends, the vocal power play is intoxicating, and even at its angriest, the vocal is still an absolute pleasure to listen to, and as gravelly as it is, it isn’t at all unbearable.
Skipping forward, and track three, Palaeocene adopts a more hardcore tone, and it’s both reminiscent of Cancer Bats vocally, and Meshuggah musically. I’m sure that existing The Ocean fans will already know this signature, and will be suitably satisfied with its appearance.
As the album progresses, the thing that I’m overwhelmed by especially is the quality of the recording, I have a real love for catching all those tiny little sounds clearly, and this album has it in spades. The textured layers of music make it an absolutely wonderful experience sonically, and it pulls me in completely. Tracks like Pleistocene are darker in their nature. They feel more foreboding and sinister, and definitely conjure up images of dark shadows and horror films.
Over eight tracks we’re taken on a journey, there are ambient moments, weaved perfectly around fast, sludgy passages, and its truly a mark of the musicianship to just how compelling it makes this work…
By track eight, Holocene, it’s definitely apocalyptic in its nature, and you can feel the climax coming. As the bass weaves its way through, it’s a refreshing change to hear it taking the lead over the other instruments, and full credit is due to Mattias for such sublime playing.
As wonderful as this all is, for me personally, the highlight of the whole album is track two, Jurassic/Cretaceous, which in part, features Jonas Renkse of Katatonia on vocal. As a Katatonia fan, this really in a highlight for me, and Jonas’ vocal is as on point as ever, the richness in the singing really shines, as much as when he is working with his own band, and for me, it screams of class.
At thirteen minutes and twenty four seconds, this is the longest track by a mile, but realistically its two tracks fused together. The first half is played in a carefree way, as if there’s no rush to be anywhere, every part is masterfully played, the vocal is a little ‘nu metal’ in style and delivery, but it works so well alongside the God Is An Astronaut style guitars, and this pulls us along until the midway drop…
As the second half meanders in, the tone is different, and its replaced with moments of calm, blast beat interludes, and absolute insanity. Of this track I have but two words, absolutely incredible.If pushed to suggest one track to champion The Ocean, then this is it.
As with all The Ocean releases, there is a standard release, and then there are multiple other options, which have been made available, most notably a box set, complete with an etched slate, and real fossils. Alongside this, and as always with The Ocean, there is a simultaneous album release of the album without any vocal on at all.
Sounds weird, right? Well, I thought that too, but as with any instrumental album, because the listening experience is so different, and the vocal narrative is absent, you’re left making your own monolog to the soundtrack. This has become quite the niche with The Ocean, and if you’re in it for the full experience, then this could possibly be a good accompaniment to complete the package.
Having now experienced The Ocean in this way, further investigation will be on the cards, and with this much class on one album, to not go back and investigate would be a complete travesty.
Label: Metal Blade Records | Pelagic Records
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Scribed by: Lee Beamish