For those unfamiliar with German progressive/post-metal band The Ocean (Collective), this unique collector’s ‘live’ edition of their double concept album Phanerozoic might either be the perfect, or the absolute worst time, to discover the twenty-year veterans.
Conceptually themed around the titular geologic era covering 541 million years until the present, spanning their 2018 Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic album and 2020’s conclusion Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic through epic-length musical exploration, The Ocean chart the history of tectonic plates, mass extinction events and the changing face of the planet in an intellectual and strangely emotional, personal way. This release doubles as the band’s definitive statement and may just be the greatest thing that they have ever done, however, if that does not sound like your cup of tea, then I suggest you run screaming.
Those still on board with all of this, you’re in for an absolute treat as it’s fucking great. Released over a number of jaw-dropping formats, not least triple vinyl in beautiful and limited variants, this is more than just an album, it’s a beautiful piece of considered art, produced in very stressful times for the musical community and an absolute triumph of achievement.
Having spent so long without being able to tour and having scored their highest charting position with the second instalment of the album, they performed Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic for live streaming as part of the Club100 series from the Pier 2 venue in the port of Bremen.
Filmed on a big stage in a large hall, the band recreated their full live experience with no expense spared on the production. With the band set up as a traditional gig facing the cameras, The Ocean belt out a masterclass in showing not only why the album was exceptional, but so is their ability.
Subtly creeping out of the darkness with a lone keyboard, the swirling synths build until the whole band come in with crushing power and an intense, dramatic light show worthy of peak Nine Inch Nails that serves to emphasise the scale of the music. The album builds and shifts in subtle (and not so subtle) musical movements, building the story of the planet’s formation through tender, searching moments and then hard-hitting moments of roaring Cult of Luna like hardcore.
The multiple camera set up, including a roving handheld camera on stage, tells the story of this tight knit unit of musicians as they feel their way through their first perforce as a band for 18 months. Consummate professionals, this is a complete band performance, and as the camera moves between the members, everyone plays their part; from Robin Staps conducting the music on guitar, to Paul Seidel energetically slamming the drums whilst providing backing vocals and Loïc Rossetti on lead vocals, drifting in and out of the focus to provide savage barking or ethereal, almost alien lilting and compellingly emotive moments of empathy.
this is not only a culmination and celebration of their finest work yet, but it’s also a Darwinian step up in terms of the band’s evolution…
Despite the German’s focused and clinical delivery in their performance and execution, there is a palpable air of relief as the band scythe through the final track Permian: The Great Dying, after the near perfect delivery they allow the mask to slip and rock out with smiles on their faces, all the tension of not playing live together for so long banished, despite the unusual circumstance of delivering a near faultless live performance to an empty room, yet knowing that out in the ether there are people watching.
Phanerozoic II by contrast was performed for the stellar Roadburn Redux event in the confines of synth player and sound designer Peter Voigtmann’s studio. Deliberately juxtaposed with the Bremen show, the second instalment is claustrophobic, enclosed with minimal, stark lighting, the band performing in a circle facing each other, giving the atmosphere a voyeuristic, intimate atmosphere.
As a fan, you can debate the strengths of each album versus the other in terms of sequencing and content, but Phanerozoic II is a different beast to its counterpart, and as such the presentation, complete with graphic interludes makes the more downbeat and emotionally charged content bristle with equal intensity.
The music can tend to drift more seamlessly into flows of peaks and troughs, given the close focus of the camera, working through the individual elements and band members. One moment you’re lost in the haunting melodies and progressive exploration, before a jagged riff and vocal hook drags you into full on headbanging, like on the near black metal crescendo of Pleistocene and the final muted sign off with Holocene.
Recorded in the freezing cold, again armed with a battery of HD cameras surrounding the performers on the outside, the constantly moving picture snatches glimpses of this strange, but passionate, performance and is utterly captivating as the lighting subtly shifts in hue, providing contrast and continual linear movement.
It is hard to talk about just the music in amongst the incredible presentation, but these recordings rival the studio album versions and showcase the band on a level with the likes of Tool and Cult of Luna, in terms of sonic delivery, with the drawn out, subtle shifts in mood of truly great progressive metal. If you missed these albums the first time round, then this release could be the gateway to a whole new experience.
You can accuse the dedication to music as art in its most intrinsic form as pretentious, and there absolutely is an element of that in Phanerozoic Live. If you like your music ragged and full of punk ethos, then The Ocean really aren’t for you, as make no mistake they’ve been making grandiose music for a long time, and this actually forms the conclusion of a trilogy they started with 2007’s Precambrian. As I said at the start, this is not only a culmination and celebration of their finest work yet, but it’s also a Darwinian step up in terms of the band’s evolution and an absolute treat for the fans.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden