The Ocean
Pelagial

Over the years I’ve failed to give The Ocean much attention, and quite possibly attention they strongly deserved. Having initially learned of their existence and being purveyors of the sound championed by bands as Neurosis, Isis, Cult Of Luna, Iron Thrones and even my personal favourite from home, Helm, I made an attempt on 2007’s double album Precambrian well after its release and made it through a few sittings. I cringed during my short lived listening session of 2010’s Heliocentric, a record that I just could not commit to finishing mainly due to the vocals and lyrical concept. I never bothered with its follow up Anthropocentric also released in 2010, most likely due to the fact of it being a continuation of its predecessor and I wrote it off as potentially having the same effect.

Three years later, The Ocean (a.k.a. The Ocean Collective due to the vast array of members / musicians that have swept through their ranks during the bands 12 year tenure) led by guitarist / song writer Robin Staps, having a stable line up since 2009 and hailing from Berlin, Germany have released their latest record, Pelagial (pronounced “puh-ley-jee-uhl”). So what possessed me to even consider bothering this time around? Basically an online buzz that I could no longer ignore, so I lashed out, made a purchase and what a welcoming surprise.

Originally intended solely as an instrumental record, with an epic, score like concept of a journey through the various depth zones of ironically enough, the ocean itself, from top to bottom. Somewhere along the writing and recording, it was decided to place a few vocals on a handful of songs eventually resulting in an entire record full.

Commencing with the short instrumental “Epipelagic”, bubbling water soundscapes (which can be heard throughout the entire duration of the record, a quality pair of cans are highly recommended) piano and strings provide a quite soothing introduction and feeling of submergence that blends into the second track “Mesopelagic: Into The Uncanny”. The first of many that don’t specifically follow any standard song structure or formula. An emotive and moving intro riff and strings pull you in, vocalist Loïc Rossetti’s cleans arrive and along with the music we’re taken through peaks and valleys with an occasional roar from Loïc until the final build up and taken further down on a fantastic vocal and up tempo beat leading into “Bathyalpelagic I: Impasses”, which initially gives the feeling of being surrounded by whales and other sea life.

With its guitar noodling from Staps and second guitarist Jonathan Nido and percussive rolls and fills courtesy of drummer Luc Hess,” Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish In Dreams” immediately makes you check if Mastodon have found their way onto your player. A number of these moments rear their head throughout the record. The Ocean’s logo / album title on the cover even brings the mighty Georgian’s to mind. “Bathyalpelagic III: Disequilibrated” is just sheer chaotic, brutal madness like you’ve got the bends. “Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts” begins with a reprisal of the main riff and intro segments of “Mesopelagi”c for approximately one minute before slowing down to a heavy march. Around the two minute mark we’re treated to an almost brief Katatonia like moment.

Almost ballad like, “Abyssopelagic II: Signals Of Anxiety” is a wonderful track and given my previous initial reaction to The Ocean’s then new vocalist Loïc Rossetti on Heliocentric a couple of years ago, he has really taken me by surprise on this record, coming leaps and bounds in performance on cleans and roaring bellows, although at times a little forced. Glimmers of his accent can be heard on the pronunciation of certain words on a number of tracks giving it something extra special and an overall unique performance.

“Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe” is by far my personal favorite track, starting with some impressive snare work from Luc and again the peaks and valleys are ever present throughout this 9mins 7secs epic (the longest on offer) with some exceptional building and explosions of riffs, crooning and roaring yet expressive vocal lines, especially around 7mins 6secs, Loïc’s roar and the explosive music is absolutely spine tingling.

Ending with “Benthic: The Origin Of Our Wishes”, with an almost reprisal of “Hadopelagic II: Omen Of The Deep” but in a lower key, Loïc roaring and screaming in guttural tones backed by an absolute crawl, this brooding, heavy, Neurosis like track (see 1min 39secs and tell me you don’t think of the Oakland veterans?) gives the feeling of the crushing weight of you guessed it, the ocean, now upon you at the very bottom of the dark abyss signalling the end of your journey, and what a journey.

It is worth noting that the aforementioned intentions of putting this out as an instrumental piece weren’t shelved. A second disc accompanies the release consisting of exactly that with an alternate mix, do yourself a favor and ensure you listen to this, again with headphones and you will reap the benefits of this fantastic piece of music composed to be heard as one piece however the tracks do stand on their own on the first disc. The strings, ocean soundscapes and electronic samples (borrowed from classic submarine films such as Das Boot) that are covered up by the vocals come to the forefront, most noticeable on “Abyssopelagic II: Signals Of Anxiety” where the chorus normally comes in on the first disc. There is also apparently a limited edition around with a DVD of accompanying visuals and a 5.1 mix. Produced and mixed by famed Swede Jens Bogren and Staps, if The Ocean can create such a surprising and amazing piece of work as both of these discs after failing to get my attention previously, they most certainly now have it. This record is up there for me in 2013 along with Helm’s Vol. 3… ‘Panthalassa’ (must be something in the water?) and I can’t wait to hear what lies beneath The Ocean for their next release.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Gibbs
October 7th, 2013

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