It’s been five years since Pelagial, the last album from German harsh progressives The Ocean. The quartet, again referring to themselves as The Ocean Collective and now with Mattias Hagerstrand on bass duties, is renowned for its prolific output as well as incendiary live shows, so the anticipation for eighth studio album Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade Records) is huge.
Opening intro, ‘The Cambrian Explosion’, is a familiar sound of poignant, icy melody and atmosphere leading organically into the crashing, yet haunting, riffs of ‘Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence’. This soon sees the emergence of the band’s emotive mix of post-Hardcore and wrought Prog: the perfect balance of harsh and clean vocals conveying every sentiment. The intricate stickwork of Paul Seidel is complemented by cosmic keys and jingling leads, piquing the highest senses of drama.
Despite lacking a certain amount of weight, the comparisons to Cult Of Luna and Opeth are inescapable. ‘Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana’ is fraught with angst and full of tenderness, whilst there’s a big hint of old-fashioned Prog rock in the ensuing ‘Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions’, with reflective spaces and delicious harmonies puncturing some shearing, punchy riffs, and cavernous roars. Here the centrepiece is built from Americana-style piano and Loïc Rossetti’s lilting, wistful vocal, an improvised aura bridging the space between melodic bludgeon.
‘Devonian: Nascent’ begins with lush strings and mournful cello, a profound swell of music before Rosseti’s most poignant and schizophrenic performance touches the heart then terrifies the ears. Robin Staps’ amazing leadwork, while lying under the surface, still shimmers in the light as the rhythm section perfectly dictates myriad switches in style.
‘The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse’ however, one of two relatively brief tracks on the album, is a rather nondescript instrumental affair which, though technically impressive, contributes nothing unless taken purely as a prelude to closer ‘Permian: The Great Dying’. Here a similarly syncopated, mighty bedrock balances odd melodies and pensive softer edges with the whole being reminiscent of Karnivool’s more grandiose moments.
That The Ocean is a collective of hugely talented musicians is indisputable, as is their ability to craft songs of stunning power and delicacy. Whilst Phanerozoic I… still sees the odd appearance of the cold, distant feel also associated with them, it’s arguably their most expansive and cohesive work for some time and whets the appetite for the inevitable second installment.