The Ocean

Album Title: 
Release Date: 
Friday, April 26, 2013
Review Type: 

At the time when our editor-in-chief gave me this album for review (alongside a shitload of other albums, I daresay) I kinda relaxed, feeling I was dealing with an “old friend” which I already knew from having done a review previously...and this new review would amount to doing a simple follow-up. Turns out, I was mistaken, my knowledge of the band relating to having bought one of their albums a year ago, and having come across the band in a review of Swiss band Coilguns's debut album (review posted on May ? of this year). In fact, previous albums by the band we done by colleagues Ivan and Cosmicmasseur. To my regret, I noticed that both reviewers had concentrated on the albums at hand, and had therefore completely omitted to include even the most summary history-of-the-band in their reviews. So I guess that's up to me then, eh? (following story culled from the band's pages on facebook and Wikipedia)

The band was originated as a collective in 2001, when mainman Robin Steps (composer & guitarist) leased the basement of an old aluminum factory in the heart of Berlin. Following a couple of weeks of daily construction work Oceanland was born, a large underground complex of recording studio and sleeping rooms, where many members of The Ocean would spend the larger part of the upcoming few years of their lives. In those first two years, there was a coming and going of musicians, with an estimated amount between 30 and 40, many of which have since disappeared from the music scene or otherwise, some even while the band was on tour! The band did its first show in July 2002, and shortly after self-released their debut album Islands/ Tides, which went by the critics quite unnoticed. 2003 saw the band on a short tour with Swedish Crust Punk act Coma, and shortly after they signed to Make My Day Records, which first released the 5-track EP Fogdiver. The EP was again completely instrumental, in spite of the fact that the band would perform with at least two singers on stage. This time, critics from a wide variety of genres gave the recording considerable acclaim.

During the winter and spring of 2004, the band recorded what was to be a double CD release, but turned out to become its two following albums. The first part, calmer and more atmospheric, was released in August 2004 as Fuxion (in a joint venture between Make My Day and Throne Records), and now also used vocals, for which the band was criticized of taking a step backwards in terms of innovation and originality. During the summer of 2005 the band signed to Metal Blade Records, whom subsequently released the harsher part of the 2004 recordings as the early 2006 released Aeolian. Unlike its predecessors, the album had but very few classical instruments of electronic sounds, but on the other hand featured no less than 7 singers, including The Ocean's own Meta as well as guest singers Tomas Hallborn, Sean Ingram, and Nate Newton...whose names were extensively used in the promotion of the album! Later in 2006, a joint vinyl version of Fluxion and Aeolian was released through Throne Records.

In late 2007, the band released the double-CD Precambrian (the album in my possession – find the review posted 24/12 of that year – it was also the last album recorded at Oceanland, as the collective was eveicted from the place in 2008), and in the following years a consolidation of the line-up occurred (where Staps found like-minded musicians whom were apparently in the scene to stay) with the additions of guitarist Jonathan Nido, bassist Louis Jucker, drummer Luc Hess...and eventually singer Loïc Rossetti joined late 2009 (incidentally, they're all form Switzerland!), effectively turning what started out as a collective into a genuine band. By then, the band had done some 400 shows all over the world, supporting bands such as Intronaut, Opeth, and At The Gates (on a year-long tour of Europe and North-America in promotion of Precambrium), but also The Black Dahlia Murder, Cult Of Luna and Isis, and they also did successful headlining tours in Europe and The States on their own.

2010 came, and the release of the albums Heliocentric and Anthropocentric (reviews posted 04/06/2010 and 02/02/2011 respectively), and it was followed with a heavy live campaign, which added Russia (including Siberia), China, Hong Kong, South-East Asia and Australia to the territories where the band had been so far, and left Rossetti with severe health problems in early 2012. Among the bands which The Ocean supported during that time, we find Opeth, Dillinger Escape Plan, Between The Buried And Me, and Devin Townsend.

Seen the singer's health condition, and seen the album's concept (which at first seemed not be unfit for vocals), Staps first composed Pelagial as a continuous piece of instrumental music, in which the different stages of the pelagial ocean were used as gradual palates. In other words, we begin at the surface with lighter music, and as go down the music slows an becomes graver. Still, it's not a linear thing, because as in real life, where undercurrents and other events (think of underwater volcanic eruptions, small underwater earth quakes, or even the passing of a large sea animal) make for sudden upward buoyancy, the music also comprises unexpected moments of “flaring up. But during 2012 Rossetti  recovered from his ailments, and the decision was therefore made to have him on the album anyway! As stated by Nido in the info sheet which accompanied our download promo copy of the album, “Loïc is the frontman of the band and we all felt that The Ocean and the album needed him...though we were all quite used to the instrumentals, I'm glad we decided to record vocals in the end, because it really adds a new dimension to the album that wasn't there before”. Analogous with the journey into the depths of the sea, the lyrics take the listener into the abysses of the human mind, not only through Freudian references, but also with very personal stuff.

So, Pelagial comes in two discs, one completely instrumental (the individual tracks connected with underwater sounds), the other with vocals (only the introductory “Epipelagic” is instrumental in both cases; relating to what's just underneath the surface and what can readily be “seen” - you'll understand the analogy to the psychology of the human mind?), but I daresay the European division make a nice fuck-up with the download files. The way they offered the thing, both discs of the album would have songs and instrumentals, and I'm afraid that I personally didn't get the instrumental/ song division of the album until I sat down to unravel all the info I had sought in consultation prior to my making of this review. By then, I had already given the album a series of listening sessions. Looks like I'll have to shuffle the tracks on my mp3-player in order to get the correct playing order of the album! Except for some of the mentioned underwater sounds, you'll find no music off this album at (www.), but there's links to facebook (check if you wanna know where the band will be playing this summer – in North America), twitter, YouTube and Pelagic Records (the band's own label – hang on for some extra info, ok?). At (www.), you'll find songs off older albums, and I am afraid that at the moment I checked I was unable to log onto (www.) (there mày actually tracks off the current album there!).

Besides the double-CD album version, as released by Metal Blade, the band itself released a special acrylic boxset edition of both the CD and vinyl versions. Those heavy acrylic boxes contain either the CD digipak or 2 vinyl gatefolds, “buried” underneath 5 acrylic layers (coloured in 5 different shades of blue, representing the 5 pelagic depth zones; they were hand-made by Berlin artist Martin Kvamme). The boxes will also include a bonus DVD featuring a 5:1 dolby surround mix of the instrumental album, and the Pelagial movie made (over the period of a complete year) by Craig Murray (worked with Nine Inch Nails and Converge in the past), which the band will also show as live video projections during their current and upcoming tours. Well worth the extra dough, I would say...of course, it's up to you lot to see which version of the album you prefer. The music's good alright, good enough to earn a “Best Album Of The Year 2013” nomination in my book!