Monday, June 23, 2008

For The Great Blue Cold Now Reigns

The Ocean – Precambrian

German band The Ocean have been around for a little while now but they're new to me, having caught my attention by way of a surge of music press interest brought on by their first US tour, and they are poised to be the 'next big thing' in the world of beard metal, blending the disparate but congruous influences of Mastodon and Isis.

The Ocean are more correctly named 'The Ocean Collective' (at least according to wikipedia) on account of it's constantly rotating membership. Songwriter/mainman Robin Staps is the constant that gives the band its identity, but he assembles a veritable circus of performers for each album. Precambrian credits more than twenty musicians, many of whom are bought in for just one song. The change in performers on each track brings some nice variety, as even though the genre and songwriter remain the same the interpretations of the performance give every song a different character. It works nicely!

Precambrian is a two disc set, the first named Hadean/Archaean and the second Proterozoic (these are the three eons that comprise the Precambrian, the geological term for the lifespan of the Earth before the current eon), and each track is named after a subdivision of each eon. It might seem to be an odd concept for a metal album, but it's strictly metaphorical; the lyrics (which are terrific by the way) are more concerned with alienation and the death of the soul in the modern age, in a nice blend of Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine. The two discs are themed by musical genre, Hadean/Archaean is all fast metalcore, in the vein of Converge or Mastodon, while Proterozoic contains songs that are longer, more moody and more progressive, similar to Isis and with a cinema soundtrack feel to many songs that calls to mind the various projects of Mike Patton.

Did I mention that this album is fucking brilliant? Opening track 'Hadean' immediately kicks the listener in the face with a brutal riff that combines the inventiveness of Mastodon and the intensity of Converge, and indeed the Hadean/Archaean disc as a whole delivers a divine twenty minutes of metalcore that never stops to catch a breath. As befitting the primordial song titles the music is earthy and volcanic, even if the riffs tend towards unconventional rhythms and the performances are precise in a typically German way.

On Proterozoic disc the songs stretch out to seven or eight minutes in length and incorporate gentle acoustic and electronic parts. There is still plenty of brutal heaviness to be found, but these passages are now accentuating points and climaxes that form only part of much longer songs containing a multitude of themes and moods. The Ocean achieve a much wider palette of styles than many of their post-metal contemporaries, from the dark and spacey 'Siderian', which places an unsettling sax lead in a movie score style soundscape, to the peaceful, pastoral beginning of 'Stenian' and the acoustic guitar backed cello piece 'Statherian', which sits behind a sampled movie quote and builds from mournful to menacing in a way that reminded me, surprisingly enough, of Swedish prog/black metal band Shining. Despite such varied styles, the disc makes up for its schizophrenia with masterful songwriting, and it's moody trippiness makes a nice counterpoint to the angry, gutteral first disc.

I'm a huge sucker for bands that combine the violent and the beautiful, and few others do it as gracefully as The Ocean or with such intelligence. And if the live video below of them performing 'Calymmian' is anything to go by, they're a fucking awesome live band too. Here's hoping they make it to Australia some day...

1 comment:

-D said...

I wish I had seen this review a year ago! I'm just now discovering The Ocean and I'm already in love.