The Ocean Collective hammer home that all nature repeats on devastating ‘Phanerozoic I’

It’s impossible to predict our future, which can be both unsettling and kind of comforting. Do you really want to know when you’re going to die? Or when the planet is going to die (even though we kind of got some info recently detailing the possibilities)? Would it be better to know if a comet is going to blast into the earth tomorrow morning or to just witness the destruction with no prior warning?

Whatever your choice, it’s inevitable both good and bad things will happen in your life that you cannot control. It’s been that way since the beginning of time, as we witness an existence that is a constant repeat of events that preceded it. That’s the basis behind “Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic,” the eighth studio effort from German progressive metal band The Ocean and their first effort in five long years (it’s also the first of a two-album arc, the second of which arrives in 2020). As one might expect from this band, it’s quite the involved listen, as they examine the idea that events that take place during the lifetime of a planet happen over and over again (continental shifts, extinction events), and there’s nothing we can do other than live our lives and study the patterns. The record takes its name from the first stage of the current Phanerozoic period, which began some 541 million years ago (those of you who think the planet is like 1,000 years old, just follow along), the time of ancient life when the first plant and animal forms began to show up. The album is not too far a stone’s throw from the band’s previous work, which is a plus, though there are elements of creative evolution we’ve come to expect from the group—its main members include guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Robin Staps, vocalist Loic Rossetti, bassist Matthias Hagerstrand, and drummer Paul Seidel.

“The Cambrian Explosion” begins the record with strange noises, like life first bubbling to the surface, while cosmic rays beam, and we’re headed into “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence” that punches right off the bat. Keys leave a glaze, while the vocals are wrenching and vicious, with clean singing swimming behind to add another texture. The crunch leads to a clean passage that glimmers, giving off a cool elegance, and as keys drip from the heavens, the song rounds into its crescendo and ends on a gigantic note. “Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana” slips into sludgy chaos and harsh growls, as the song pushes it way across the surface. Savagery and melody collide, while heavy chugging erupts, and Rossetti’s call of, “I turn the tables on you,” leads to a fit of rage. Anger and frustration bubble to the surface, giving off steam that’ll redden your flesh. “Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions” has riffs burning, strong singing that melds with guitars soaring, and later calm trickles in, which strings scrape over. The song is allowed to float for a while before the volatility emerges. The music bruises, while the growls send shockwaves, but then we find serenity again, as strings and plinking keys take us out.

“Devonian: Nascent” is the longest track here, running a healthy 11:05, and things begin gently, as strings emerge, and gazey melodies stretch over the song. Passionate, clean singing highlights the bulk of the song (Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse is featured on the track), with the line, “Send me back to the time before our very first day,” reaching over the eons. Eventually, the track erupts, with growls arriving and tearing everything apart, and the band following suit with a thunderous display. Volcanic ash is vaulted into the sky, as the band kicks sizable dents into the final moments of this stunning track. “The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse” is a compelling, colorful instrumental track with strong leads and a pace that increases in intensity as it goes. The track feels like it’s aiming to scoop up stardust before leading into the finale “Permian: The Great Dying,” recalling a mass extinction event that preceded the birth of the Triassic period. The track surges ahead, with forceful growls and punishment that eventually makes way for strange calm. “Let’s wait until we freeze together and rest like this forever,” is a line that punches you right in the fucking heart, as things quake the earth, as Rossetti calls, “Long time to recover, 30 million years,” hammers home the expanse and the incredibly tiny speck of dust our existences encompass.

The Ocean’s aggressive and progressive music and views are on full view with “Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic,” a record that’s both a retelling of the past and a warning about the future, which might be closer than we realize. The band remains one of the most fascinating and evolutionary in heavy music, and even eight records in, they still find ways to surprise. I guess it shouldn’t be too shocking to expect consistency from the band because, after all, it’s an event that has repeated itself over and over again.

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