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The Ocean - Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic CD (album) cover


The Ocean

Experimental/Post Metal

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5 stars The 8th album of German act The Ocean Collective entitled Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (part II will be released in 2020), doesn't add any new elements to their previous discography and carries no innovation with it. It is not the first album that tries to achieve a perfect, natural balance between an enormous mid-tempo post/sludge style and the most progressive aspects of metal sound. Clearly, we have listened to myriads of albums that include huge riffs, extended atmospheric ambiences and great production. Of course, it's not the first metal album that combines its high dynamics with piano, cello and electronic sounds and, no discussion about it, we have listened to countless albums sang by phenomenal singers ? though I believe it is time to acknowledge Loic Rossetti as one of the best singers of our time. And despite the fact that Katatonia' s Jonas Renske can make even stones weep when he sings, we have listened to many collaborations in the past, as important as this one in ''Devonian: Nascent''.

Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic is not the first album that narrates stories regarding the powers of the earth, surrendering itself to nature-centric visions. It is not the first scientific or instructive album, neither the first one that makes us suspect that its lyrics hide essentially a great allegory ? the disasters, reconstructions and rebirths of the Phanerozoic era as geological symbols of human insignificance and of the little deaths and rebirths we experience in our everyday lives. The Ocean is not the first band to evoke feelings of ultimate decay or ultimate uplifting and this is not the first album to include dramatic or epic elements of this intensity. Many times in the past we have listened to music that created powerful imaginary images of seas that rise as mountains and of earthquakes that tear the land in pieces.

Analysing its characteristics, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic should be just another good album, so how is it possible to feel so much more than that?

There is no reasonable explanation. It seems that the only one responsible for the creation of an album of this calibre is that vagabond, untamed lady that never marries or belongs to anyone, that never gets abused by anyone. That lady that ignores the begging of the great and answers to no prayers and, if she feels like it, she sits next to the ''small'' and ''humble'' of her choosing, uninvited and then departs again like a shadow, without any warning. The ancients called her Muse, we call her inspiration today but no matter how you call her, it seems that this wild entity fell in love with Robin Staps and his Berlin-based collective and obviously she didn't leave him alone not even for a moment while this album was being created. It's the only way to explain the fact that every note of this album seems to fulfill its causality and completely serve the purpose it was born for. And as the Milky Way's spiral can be compared with the spiral of a snail's shell, so the less than 50 minutes of this record compete with the 500 million years and the 5 mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic era, claiming the same root causes.

The Ocean Collective is not the first band that metal music ? with its modern, post-2000 aesthetic context ? should owe gratitude for the kiss of life it offers. Yet, until an album of that quality appears again, there is the possibility to be the last.

Report this review (#2054404)
Posted Friday, November 9, 2018 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars Metal is dead they say! But is it? Of course not but the naysayers seem to think that since there is no unifying metal band such as a Led Zeppelin, a Metallica or an Iron Maiden to rally around in the 21st century that the grandiose nature of the genre surely must be just a pathetic shadow of its former glory. Au contraire! The metal universe has never been so large and seen so many torches carried from the past masters and an even greater number of new torches being lit seemingly every single day. The big bang that began in the late 60s with proto-metal bands like Gun, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Iron Butterfly just to name a few, quickly led to the first metal oriented bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. While it would take a decade or so for the genre to branch off from the parent trunk, once the process began, it splintered off into a million directions and well into the 21st century we are treated to a genre that can seemingly adapt to any disparate musical style and inspiration that has ever been proposed.

Bands like THE OCEAN remind me of exactly how far the metal genre has evolved since its humble nascency that was a mere angsty reaction to the blues oriented rock. This German band while starting out in their own state of sludge metal disquietude has continually ratcheted up the complexity of their albums as they went from a chaotically noisy punk infused sludge metal band to a bona fide progressive behemoth that tamed their aggressive tendencies and funneled them into a more post-metal paradigm that implemented the incredibly diverse classical music elements and electronic sounds that have placed them in a rather unique niche of the progressive metal universe. Led by founder and guitarist Robin Staps, this band that is also known as THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE found a more stable lineup beginning with their album "Heliocentric" and has continued to awe and amaze the world with a series of sophisticated albums that uniquely incorporate Earth's geologic history into the compositional process and while the geologic themes presented in all their nerdiness may seem a tad eccentric, the fact is that this band is absolutely brilliant in how they adapt the geological themes to the more personal human level of reality.

The title of THE OCEAN's 7th studio album (not counting re-recordings, EPs or demos) is officially PHANEROZOIC I - PALAEOZOIC, so first of all we need a few definitions of the title so that the lyrical content makes a lot more sense. The PHANEROZOIC eon is the current geologic eon in the time scale which hosts the most abundant eon for all flora and fauna that has ever existed and began 541 million years ago with the Cambrian period when a huge diversity of hard-shelled animals made their debut onto life's stage. The PALAEOZOIC era (also spelled PALEOZOIC) is the earliest of three geologic eras (the others being the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic) of the PHANEROZOIC era and lasted from 541 to 251 millions ago. THE OCEAN is serious about their scientific terminology and the seven mostly lengthy tracks tackle the unthinkable task of narrating the geological periods that the PALAEOZOIC era is divided into. There are only six periods, however the beginning Cambrian is divided into two tracks with the other periods following, the Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous (if you're really a nerd you'd know this period is divided into two sub-periods, the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian!) and last but not least the Permian whose ending saw one of planet Earth's largest mass extinctions in its entire history. That's your geology lesson for the day, so how about the music?

As i've already stated, THE OCEAN may insinuate that the lyrical content comes right out of a university text book but in fact, the lyrics are quite nebulous and have double meanings while relating to the geologic narrative, they also incorporate the personal aspects of life. THE OCEAN seems to get more ambitious with each release and this latest endeavor is certainly no exception to that trend. While it's true that THE OCEAN do not deviate from what came before and stick to their carved out niche like a scuba diver to an air tank, what THE OCEAN does accomplish on PHANEROZOIC is a nice mix of their early heavy chunky guitar riffs of sludge metal with frantic screamed vocals mixed with the sensual amorphous classical meanderings that showcase tender clean vocals with supplemental instrumentation that includes cello, trumpet, trombone, piano and symphonic atmospheres that find the band pulling a Jekyll & Hyde for much of the album.

One uniting factor is the progressive workouts that permeate both aggressive and placid aspects of the band as irregular time signature rich cadences jitter by with the accompaniment of jazzy drum gymnastics and hypnotizing post-metal meanderings that find repetitious riffing slowly transmogrify into a larger picture much like the geologic eras that change so slowly that we cannot perceive them. While the previous album "Pelagial" was in danger of exterminating the sludge metal aspects of THE OCEAN's own musical history, PHANEROZOIC unapologetically brings back the harsher aspects of the band's earliest recordings without sacrificing the progressive and atmospheric accomplishments they've accrued since their 2007 landmark album "Precambrian." Suffice it to say, THE OCEAN strike a mean balance between their harshest moments of albums like "Aeolian" and the post-rock serenity of "Pelagial." PHANEROZOIC finds the perfect balance between these two worlds and best of all this wider sonic spectrum is brilliantly mixed with a production value that perfectly balances the distorted metal outbursts with the exquisitely divine orchestral moments. While the final track is titled "Permian: The Great Dying," it seems safe to bet that THE OCEAN won't go extinct anytime soon. This phenomenal work is by far one of 2018's most ambitious metal projects even if it hasn't exactly expanded the elements that they are known for.

Report this review (#2110095)
Posted Friday, December 21, 2018 | Review Permalink
5 stars A few months back, I had the privilege of watching this band in concert. It truly was a privilege. I have seen Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Satyricon apart from a bunch of Indian metal/rock bands in concert. The Iron Maiden show in particular was unforgettable as over 30,000 fans had gathered for what was Maiden's first show in India and we screamed out the lyrics along with Bruce Dickinson all the way till the end. The Ocean show I attended was in a small performing area attached to a pub and was attended by 100 fans tops in a venue that could have accommodated. And it was hands down the best rock/metal show I have attended. Nothing else has ever come close. This is doubtless also a product of the limited opportunities I get to watch top notch international acts. But it is equally a tribute to the incredible musicianship of Ocean, be it their energy or their precision or their eclecticism.

Yes, Rossetti's vocals ARE effective both when he's doing those growled screams and when he's singing clean. They performed this whole album and he can keep it up song after song without a drop in intensity. If he lost pitch ever, I didn't hear it. And he crowdsurfed while still singing, yes! He also came up with jaw dropping sustained screams. Needless to say, he does everything in the studio too that he does live.

Stags and Hagerstrand double up to form a super-heavy rhythm section. Man, are those riffs crushing. They mount a wall of heaviness so formidable and imposing you just watch and listen in astonishment without complaining about the lack of solos. Or the fact that the music largely stays in a mid range tempo. There are ebbs and crests but rarely do they play at thrash/death metal tempos. You THINK song after song of despairing, slow/mid tempo sludge metal is gonna get boring fast but the heaviness by itself is so awesome to behold you are gasping for breath instead.

The other reason it doesn't get boring is the drummer Paul Seidel. Bespectacled and genial (like a metal version of John Weathers), he is incredibly creative with his fills whilst also possessing the chops to pull off those intense, brutal metal breakdowns. He keeps changing up things just enough to nip any signs of monotony in the bud.

It is hard for me to describe the tracks very specifically on an individual basis. Ocean specialises in concept albums and the songs are deeply related and do run together. It is NOT a bad thing if you think of it as a sort of metal symphony as opposed to requiring lots of variety from one track to another. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of variation in here but the songwriting is cohesive to the point that it gets hard to separate one track from the other. It is best heard in one go from start to finish and the terrific production doesn't hurt at all.

The one possible flipside is that if for some reason, this kind of music isn't really your thing, NOTHING on here is going to work. But I can't imagine why that would be. If you read this up to this point, you are a metal listener aware of where metal is at these days without nostalgic yearning for the days when metal bands were slotted in very specific genres and made the same album again and again in service of genre purity.

As is the case with these awesome 21st century metal bands, Ocean is a hybrid that draws from metal through the ages to come up with something that is undeniably and unabashedly metal and yet doesn't sound like a rehash of metal classics like, I don't know, Altars of Madness, Obscura, Transcendence, None So Vile, etc. And they have done it again and again through the course of a long career. It's a wonder they aren't better known than they are. This album is as good an introduction to their work as any.

Report this review (#2235610)
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars With such inspiring album names like 'Pre-Cambrian,' 'Heliocentric,' and, most recently, 'Phanerozoic,' casual prog metal fans could be forgiven for assuming The Ocean specializes in some form of insufferable overly technical high-brow prog metal. But as fans of the German prog and post metal veterans can attest, The Ocean's use of textbook scientific imagery simply provides the metaphorical foundations for the band's exploration of man's essential nature, the quality of his relationships, and his place in the universe. 'Phanerozoic' continues this tradition by offering up a heavy but genuinely moving meditation on the cyclical nature of life going in and out of existence across an unfathomably long length of time across the Earth's history. The album's finisher 'Permian: The Great Dying' may be one of the best songs I have heard in the 2010's.
Report this review (#2287360)
Posted Saturday, December 14, 2019 | Review Permalink

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