The Ocean are, without doubt, one of the brightest bastions in an otherwise dark land. The world of post metal is a heavily populated one and with Isis now in the history books and Neurosis… well, they exist on their own plane where no one can really be compared to them… there’s a slew of bands all bandying around monolithic sludge riffs imbued with post rock. Often times the results are stunning, and have been of late, just look at the latest records from Light Bearer and Cult of Luna. Fortunately for The Ocean, they can happily maintain their place amongst this modern elite of post metal.
Three years ago the German band enjoyed something of a rejuvenation after a more than rocky period. After 2007’s majestic double album Precambrian, the band leader, founder and guitarist Robin Staps found most of his line-up vacating the once vibrant collective of musicians that, at times, touched on double figures. Beginning a process of rebuilding from the rubble up, Staps assembled the band’s now sturdiest line-up for 2010’s dual album releases of Heliocentric and Anthropocentric.
Frankly, the end results were superb and catapulted The Ocean to new levels so well deserved. Staps has always explored lofty ideas and the double header of records examined the roots of modern Christian belief systems, the ideas of Renaissance philosophers and astronomers and meshed it all together into a manifesto of sorts that sought to deconstruct the grip of religion on everyday lives and espouse many atheist notions. Ambitious indeed, but the quality of Heliocentric and Anthropocentric points to mission accomplished.
Such scholarly concepts need a follow-up and that has come in the shape of Pelagial, an album where The Ocean live up to their name, exploring each of the five depths of the ocean – epipelagic, mesopelagic, bathyalpelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadopelagic – beginning at the water’s surface and going deeper and deeper and with it, heavier and more abstruse. Thus is the concept and one couldn’t really be surprised by its depth (pun intended) conceptually and indeed emotionally.
Presented as one 53 minute piece of music, Pelagial exists in two forms – with vocals and instrumental, with both forms together in the one package. It’s the former though with Loic Rossetti that truly deserves admiration. And praise the seas for it, as sickness left him incapable of performing vocal duties for a number of months, which is why the band went on to record an instrumental record initially, only for the vocalist to recover and place his versatile lungs over these expansive passages.
Expansive is just the word for this record, much like all of The Ocean’s records. The skull crushing heaviness and sludgy riffs are all in tow while ambient melodies and post rock crescendos are never too far around the corner, all complemented by lush string arrangements and pianos.
‘Abyssopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety’ sees the band recoiling into their more melody driven arsenal with mostly clean vocals and an unashamedly towering chorus that shows Rossetti is an incredibly underappreciated vocalist. He’s one of the most rounded vocalists in metal today, fearlessly moving between swooning croons and dirty bellows and barks that are a sound to behold.
And while, this album is laden with beautiful moments throughout, it is still a devastatingly heavy one, just take the hammering riffs of closer ‘Bethnic: The Origin of Our Wishes’ for example. It’s a voyage in every sense of the word, but you wouldn’t expect anything else from The Ocean. The depths of this record’s waters are vast and worthy of great exploration, so much so you’ll easily get lost and be glad to stay there.