CD REVIEW – PHANEROZOIC II: MESOZOIC/CENOZOIC by THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE

by Aaron Gidney

With this latest release, The Ocean (also known as The Ocean Collective) have titled an album that is every reviewer’s worst nightmare – just wait until you see the song titles….

The Germanic outfit formed in 2000 by mainstay Guitarist Robin Staps and it’s revolving door of musicians and collaborators gave birth to the ‘Collective’ name associated.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Ocean’s work, their albums are based on eras/eons of the earth’s formation and this latest release is album number eight and the second of a two-part album concept focusing on the Phanerozoic eon.

Atmospheric opener ‘Triassic’ sets the scene for the album, building slowly and features – wait for it – a Bass solo in its opening minutes before the vocals kick in. In suitably exotic fashion, the track then begins to circle round a D Major Phrygian melodic guitar line, giving the track a middle-eastern vibe.

The separation of instruments in the mix is beautiful and gives plenty of breathing space and clarity to each part. The growled vocals are never overwhelming and naturally slot in between the melodic vocals which incidentally features Jonas Renkse of Katatonia.

Second track, the epic ‘Jurassic/Cretaceous’ is very reminiscent of Tool and it almost feels like the band were channelling their inner Danny Carey and Adam Jones on guitar and drums on this one. In fact, this one wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of Tool’s last three albums. The track absorbs you in its grandiosity and it really feels like it is taking you on a journey. It’s the type of music you can’t just listen to but encapsulates the listener and doesn’t detach itself from you until its over. The use of synths/sequencers offers some sonic space to open up the mix without the need for unrelenting guitars all the way through – a smart move. The drum toms throughout the track create a rhythmic hypnosis that envelopes the listener and emphasises the beautifully-sparse clean delay guitar parts that pepper the quieter sections.

Plenty of diversity on this one which crescendos with some blast beats towards the end. Exhausting but well worth the effort.

Third Track, ‘Palaeocene’ is much more frenetic in its opening sequence, only to give way to a lighter, soundscape section that eventually concedes to another death metal vocal sequence with a cameo appearance from Breach singer, Tomas Hallbom. I suspect these are the sections that will appeal to the more staunch death metal and sludge metal fans of the band. Saying that, its a fairly welcome straight-ahead track following the epic tracks it follows.

‘Eocene’ is even shorter and immediately begins with melodic and melancholic vocals – again, emphasising the light and shade of the album and the frantic previous track. Again, the tones and effects used on the guitar are perfect and really hit the sweet spot in the mix. It’s pleasant to hear this, given that many modern Prog Metal/Sludge Metal bands are often so downtuned that the mixes become too muddy to enjoy sonically.

‘Oligocene’ features a lovely drum pattern at its backbone, holding together the instrumental sweeping keyboards and textured layers of soaring and backwards guitar thats just about audible. Beautiful stuff.

Next track ‘Miocene/Pliocene’ brings back the fuzz guitar and growled vocals albeit at a slow-burning Doom Metal-style dirge. A good use of the melodic chorus/growled verses on this one and its always interesting to hear growled vocals on extremely slow tracks – this one works really well and adds mystery and intrigue.

Penultimate opus, ‘Pleistocene’ starts with a four-on-the-floor stomp and what sounds like a cello adds some nice melodic overtones – even when the growled vocals enter the fray – perhaps a nod to My Dying Bride perhaps? This track is perhaps the most unique of the tracks on this album albeit leaves room for some unusual time signatures and blast beats during the latter half of the song, indicating that it is indeed cut from the same cloth as the rest of the album.

If death metal vocals aren’t for you, you may want to avoid this and if you’ve never had the joy of listening to Norwegian Black Metallers, Emperor or their leader, Ihsahn’s solo material, there’s probably little in this for you to appreciate – however, saying that, fans of Mastodon, Katatonia and Tool will probably feel right at home with this material.

Album closer, ‘Holocene’ ties up the album nicely, bringing back the melodic vocals on top of a detuned piano motif and a fantastic bass line underneath lush delayed/reverbed guitar chords. The cello comes back with a melodic theme – this is what sets bands like The Ocean aside from all others – the willingness to experiment with melody and other instruments rather than constant reliance on guitar riffs and solo.

The album is definitely to be listened to as a ‘piece of art’ – there’s no hit singles here and perhaps a broad understanding of their multi-album overarching concept with help getting into the headspace needed to fully appreciate The Ocean Collective.

An expansive and wonderfully executed piece of work from one of Germany’s underrated Progressive Metal artists.

Tracks:
1. Triassic
2. Jurassic/Cretaceous
3. Palaeocene
4. Eocene
5. Oligocene
6. Miocene/Pliocene
7. Pleistocene
8. Holocene

Line-Up:

Robin Staps – Guitar, Programming, Backing vocals

Loïc Rossetti – Vocals

Paul Seidel – Drums

Mattias Hägerstrand – Bass

David Ramis Åhfeldt – Guitar

Peter Voigtmann – Synths

Online:

https://metalblade.com/theocean/

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