Metal’s always been somewhat self-referential, to Darkthrone writing songs about the genre and decrying its fall from the past, to bands having songs that are practical anthems since they’re named after themselves, such as Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath. But a band writing an album about themselves? That’s another level of ridiculous.
OK, that last bit actually isn’t the case with “Pelagial,” the latest record from German metal collective The Ocean. Yes, their new record is about a trip from the surface to the deepest depths of the ocean and what’s encountered along the way both physically and mentally, but it isn’t actually about the dudes in the band. Clear enough? But it’s still kind of amusing, at least on the surface, that the Ocean finally got around the making a record about the ocean, something you’d think they’d have tackled long ago. Instead, their ambitious, epic-length records have covered so much other ground, from the formation of the Earth itself to a sprawling critique of Christianity, that they haven’t gotten around to a full-blown adventure centered on their namesake.
If you’ve been along for the entire ride with the Ocean, as I have, you know that this band doesn’t do anything small when it comes to their full-length records. They have multi-part albums that tie together, and even in the midst of one piece of something that acts as part of a larger whole, you’re still waylaid with material that, while exciting and astonishing musically, can be overwhelming. You definitely need to set time aside to absorb these albums as a whole. But “Pelagial” is a little different. Instead of the challenging lengths of most of their records, this one is a compact, digestible 53 minutes long. I listened to the whole thing the other day while cutting grass and actually needed to restart the album because it ended before my work. Very un-Ocean of them, but a welcome change. Now, this is the Ocean after all, so even when they serve up a smaller portion there’s a catch, and that comes in the form of “Pelagial” existing in two versions: one instrumental, the other with vocals. Other than the singing, they slightly differ sonically, but the band basically gives you two ways to absorb their sixth record. It’s up to you which one you like best.
Loic Rossetti is the frontman for the Ocean, and health problems were originally the reasons why there were no vocals for this album. Luckily he recovered, and the band decided on two versions of the album. He’s been a part of the band since 2009 and joined in time for the last jointed project, 2010’s “Heliocentric” and “Anthropocentric.” Rounding out this lineup are guitarists Robin Staps and Jonathan Nido, bassist Louis Jucker, and drummer Luc Hess. As we’ve come to expect, the band is tight and atmospheric, the music truly does resemble a trip to the depths of majestic bodies of water, and compositions resemble even more progressive steps in their playing and presentation. It’s a really well-made, fully realized idea that rewards the listener again and again.
We’re just going to talk about the version of the album with the vocals since the instrumental version is basically the same. You know, just without vocals. “Epipelagic” opens the record with bubbling, piano dripping, and the feeling like you’re being immersed in a giant body of water and on your long way down. “Mesopelagic: The Uncanny,” named for the Twilight zone of the ocean just off the Continental Shelf, begins gently and serenely before the song ignites, and Rossetti observes, “The light is fading,” which lets you imagine what you would be experiencing if you were on this ride. That spills into the three-part “Bathyalpelagic” section, taking its name from the Midnight zone off the Continental Slope. “Impasses” is the first section, and it has a progressive bend to its post-metal landscape, reminding a bit of a nastier Thrice; “The Wish in Dreams” is the middle portion, with thick, tricky compositions that keep you tied into the journey, while Rossetti wonders, “How much control do we have over what we wish for?” The final part of this triptych, “Disequillibrated” has a thornier opening that sounds like it’s black metal-inspired, and the aggression continues throughout its running time, eventually fading out in a claustrophobic, underwater signals that sound like being stuck in a submarine.
From there it’s onto the two-part “Abyssopelagic” portion, that is named for the section called The Abyss (obviously) that is off the Continental Rise and Ocean Basin. It begins with the “Boundless Vasts” part of the song, has cool melody lines and eventually some muscular sludging, and that turns into “Signals of Anxiety, a song that might remind you of ISIS or Intronaut with its muddy melodies and growly singing, but eventually it goes into mid-tempo territory and sounds ballad-like. “Hadopelagic” (the Trenches) also gets a two-part portion, starting with a liquidy intro cut that smashes into the 9:18 second section “Let Them Believe,” that is chunky, gruff, and really fucking good. “Demersal,” named for the second-to-lowest section of the ocean, is a 9:05 serving of pounding post-metal crushing that is fitting as our journey gets ready to reach its conclusion, and the drama is at its apex. Closer “Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes,” takes us back to where everything originated. It’s thunderous, sludgy, and explodes with life, making it the proper sendoff for a journey back to where life started and the very thing from which this band takes its name and, for this record, its inspiration.
The Ocean never fail to keep us captivated, and they’ve found a way to be even more effective while remaining forward-thinking and ambitious at the same time. This is the record this band obviously had to make eventually (thematically, of course), and they did a pretty damn good job making it compelling, heavy, and dream-inducing. No idea what these guys will try next (the history of food-borne pathogens?), but chances are they’ll find a crazy way to make it awesome and top themselves again.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.theoceancollective.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/theocean/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/