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Ocean Architecture - Animus CD (album) cover


Ocean Architecture


Progressive Metal

3.84 | 70 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars If the potential of a band can be measured by its debut release, then boy oh boy do we have a new band to watch. Ocean Architecture, on this first release entitled Animus, have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they possess an understanding of the genre that I think a lot of other bands with far larger discographies have yet to achieve. Sure, the album is technically brilliant, but it's far more than that as well: it's subtle, it's atmospheric, it's emotional- all in all, the best way to put it is simply to say that it's really good. There's nothing wildly experimental about the album, but when something is put together this well there really doesn't need to be. These musicians play what they know, and in my opinion, it's pretty clear from this release that what they know is how to play great progressive metal.

"Metatheory" begins with a soft, piano-led section that strongly reminds me of BTBAM's softer moments. There are some very cool lyrics in this beginning section, and the track has a great slow build, first intensifying the piano part and then providing one of the coolest vocal moments I've honestly ever heard. A very faint hum is introduced and slowly intensified into a stunningly gutteral growl; it can't have been an easy technique to pull off and it sounds amazing. It's also a brilliant way to transfer into the more uptempo, metal portion of the track, featuring some great riffs and a killer guitar solo backed by some understated but very cool orchestration. The musicians are obviously very good at what they do as well; there's excellent interplay between all the instruments and the track's mostly instrumental 6+ minute runtime flies by.

"The Last Stand" begins with another softer section. Atmospheric percussion meshes with distant, murky-sounding guitar to create a great ambience. The introduction of more driving percussion introduces the beginning of the track proper, and when vocals enter the incredible compositional maturity (considering this is a debut) becomes shockingly apparent. With a combination of melodic vocals, growls, atmospheric keyboard parts and distorted riffs that remind one of Pain of Salvation at its best while also sounding completely fresh, it's obvious that Ocean Architecture have drawn from a variety of disparate influences to create the sound of the album, and this 8 minute track in particular proves that they've succeeded in creating their own varied, compelling sound.

"Plato's Cave," with a hefty 9 minute runtime, shows that Ocean Architecture is by no means afraid of long songs and that they are more than capable of pulling them off. With a more strident, heavier sound than "The Last Stand," "Plato's Cave" nonetheless features great arrangement and orchestration to complement its heaviness. The clean vocals perhaps lack some of the technical perfection of other, more operatic bands, but they fit the music very well. Where the vocalist really shines, however, is in the growls, which are powerful, passionate, and, to my ears, have some of the best tone this side of Mikael Akerfeldt. There's also another brilliant section where clean vocals start at nearly a whisper and slowly crescendo into amazing growls and shrieks; to my mind, the kind of stylistic mastery demonstrated there is far more important than pure technicality. To cap it all off, there's some reprises of thematic elements from "Metatheory," which creates a very nice sense of cohesion in the album and provides a nice callback for listeners who are paying close attention.

"Velvet" is the shortest song on the album thus far, but it comes out swinging, with pounding riffs and frenetic keyboards playing behind perhaps the most brutal vocal part on the album so far. "Velvet" has a much more extreme-metal vibe than any of the previous tracks; the vibe is far more Unexpect or Between the Buried and Me than Pain of Salvation, especially in the kind of "twisted carnival" sound from the keyboards. Not content to sit in one style for a whole song, however, there's also a very cool part towards the end of the song that sounds like it might have been inspired by some kind of folk dance: a simple melody is played over and over, constantly speeding up and being elaborated upon until the track comes to its conclusion.

"Columns of Time" slows things down again, bringing the piano back to the forefront and featuring mostly clean vocals and a surfeit of melodic guitar and keyboard parts among the riffs. It's a testament to Ocean Architecture's skill as composers that they can pull off a track like this right after a track like "Velvet," and that they do so with equal aplomb. Particularly notable in my mind is an instrumental section in the middle of the track that features some truly gorgeous piano and guitar that's used sparsely but incredibly effective. The percussion, too, deserves credit for its subtlety; the beat sounds deceptively simple but there's a ton going on if you listen carefully. When vocals re-enter over this mix they're also used very well; there's a lot of excellent harmony and counterpoint and growls are placed minimally over quiet instrumental parts to create a great juxtaposition. The track gets a little heavier towards the end and closes with a great instrumental section that transitions seamlessly into the opening growls of the next track.

"Steel Ecstasy: Columns Collapse" again makes masterful use of the interplay between instruments to create an amazing atmosphere that's both heavy and highly melodic; technically brilliant but also highly emotive. There's an incredible sense of sorrow running through the entire track; most prog-metal certainly doesn't evoke the kind of emotion that this track does and I struggle to think of another example where growling has been so effectively used to convey an emotional state. "Steel Ecstasy" is undoubtedly one of the less accessible tracks on the album, but I also think it's one of the best, with exceptional pathos and an incredible sense of pacing that's perfectly suited as a lead-in to the final, two part track.

"Animus Part I" is the beginning of the end, opening with a wonderfully bleak, gothic- sounding motif that transitions into a much heavier theme, mixing growls and clean vocals to great effect and featuring more of the same awesome guitar-keyboard combination that's been all over this album. The track also has a great sense of finality to it; I really don't know any way to describe it other than to say it "feels" like it belongs at the end of the album, which suits it perfectly as the album's penultimate track and the first part of the finale to the whole affair. "Part I" ends with a frenetic guitar that spirals off into silence, but it isn't long before "Part II" begins anew with crunching riffs and delicate keyboards that somehow perfectly match the heaviness. The vocals are probably the best they've been anywhere in the album, with the clean harmonies pulled off flawlessly and the growls interspersed exactly where they will have the greatest effect. The ending in particular is masterful, with a huge collage of vocal parts that sound like it's made up of melodies from earlier in the album that all blend together in one huge arrangement. It can't have been easy to pull off compositionally but it's done exceptionally and it's an intensely satisfying end to the album. A very pretty piano outtro provides a nice callback to the album's beginning and provides an excellent sense of circularity and closure.

Animus, like all the best albums, is one that rewards repeated listening. The melodies may not be as immediately accessible as some other bands may be, but the composition and performance of the tracks leaves very little to be desired. Overall, then, this debut from Ocean Architecture is a wonderfully satisfying journey and one that I fervently hope will be followed by many more releases, because this is one heck of a starting point.


VanVanVan | 4/5 |


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