The Ocean // Pelagial
Rating: 4.0/5.0 — A struggling band finally realizing their potential | Instrumental: 4.5/5.0 — If Pelican were better in every single way.
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites:  |
Release Dates: EU: 2013.04.29  NA: 04.30.2013

TheOcean-PelagialNo one can fault The Ocean‘s ambition. Ever since their 2007 opus, the double album Precambrian, they’ve been setting their eyes on bigger and bigger projects. In the past few years they’ve released two albums arguably designed to be thought of as a double album — Heliocentric and Anthropocentric. These dealt with the origin of man and the redundancy of God in a two-hour, post-metal journey constantly switching between the conventional and unconventional that made for a disorienting yet satisfying experience. However, I can’t help but feel Anthropocentric, the second album, was somewhat of a blunder. It came across as a very bland interpretation of something we already heard on Heliocentric rather than an extension of the theme. It was perhaps less corny with the clean vocals pushed a bit further into the background (thank you!), but it left the personality of Heliocentric behind. It also fell into some of the potholes that have haunted them for years, such as the lack of subtlety in their themes; mostly coming from how clean and decipherable the vocals were and how the lyrics weren’t too great. To me they came across as Giant Squid without the subtleties and extra instrumentation, which is fine, but it always left me wanting more.

Enter Pelagial. Coming three years after Anthropocentric, is it an eradication of the issues that plagued The Ocean in their last few albums? To get straight to it; not quite. But what it does show is a progression in all of the right ways to bring their finest recording yet to the table. The hollow feeling of Anthropocentric is all but gone, the songs sound fuller and progress far more satisfyingly, leaving nearly no dull moments to speak of. Initially I had my guard up — the introduction with piano and water samples making me raise an eyebrow. The aquatic nature and theme of the album seemed rather forced, especially since they have a track record for lacking subtlety. Thankfully, the next track comes in rather quickly with some really lovely clean guitar and a tension-building drumbeat, leaving little time before the huge, melodic, clean-yet-heavy distorted riff comes in to wash away any doubts I may have had. “Mesopelagic: The Uncanny” is a really nice track that introduces the meat of the album with The Ocean‘s signature sound, just far more refined. Since the very beginning they’ve been a strange half-way house between technical and straight forward, no doubt an attempt to please both camps, but this is the first time it works (aside from the clean vocals).

The vocals aren’t actually bad, but they’re just really not to my taste. I really don’t like my music straight forward — I crave subtlety. They’re certainly better here than on the past records, though. It really wouldn’t be enough for me if The Ocean waterother things didn’t improve though, but they did. Almost every track comes to a satisfying conclusion and sets the mood for the next one. The pacing is great, and there aren’t really any weak moments during the entire experience; the journey itself being far more gratifying.

The Ocean didn’t just stop there though. Offered with this album is a second disc containing an instrumental version for those who aren’t fans of the vocals. Needless filler? I heartily disagree. This is their most technical and lush album to date and to be able to appreciate it without vocals not only turns it into a totally different album, but makes it equally as (if not more) enjoyable than the main version. Imagine Pelican, but with far more technicalities, decent progressions, production, tone, etc. Well, you may as well go ahead and imagine Pelican, but much better in almost every way.

ocean2It also reveals so much on repeated listens, too — the drumming being surprisingly busy at times, the tasteful return of past riffs and melodies, the really great, technical clean riffing that sets a wonderful sound palette for many of the tracks. This is their most cohesive and enjoyable album from start to finish. On a completely objective level, not only is this The Ocean performing at their very best, but it shows they put a significant amount of thought into this album as opposed to just covering it in Darwin quotes and calling it a day.

The Ocean still have a lot of progressing to do before they totally pull out of the issues they’ve had for years, but damn me to hell if this isn’t an improvement. There’s absolutely no reason that fans of Giant Squid, Pelican and Rosetta wouldn’t be enthralled by this, and prior fans of The Ocean can plunge into what is an all-around improvement in every single way. One thing is clear — the guys at The Ocean have finally started living up to their reputation with an excellent album that deserves to be heard.

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  • Patrick Thomas

    Well, good review, but I think I’m going to like this even more than you considering I thought Anthropocentric was better than Heliocentric (admittedly, I should revisit both to confirm this), and more importantly the vocals on the new songs are top notch – both the harsh and clean. But to each their own.

    • That’s funny. Heliocentric was way better IMO. I think I gave Heliocentric a 4.5 and Anthropocentric a 2.5. It’s ’cause the latter felt hackneyed and not well-worked out. But Heliocentric was practically prog. Loved it.

  • I would like that AMG gaves me one suggestion. I’m undecided, I don’t know what album I’ll listen in the next week. If Noumena, Amorphis or Heaven Shall Burn. But this album of The Ocean that I’m now curious about…

    • I suggest this record.

      • You know, this website is not any website… for me is more then that…because, I don’t know… it gave us a feeling that you all really understand about good metal you don’t deal with metalcore shit…you know what real music is all about…keep metal…m/

        • Well, these guys do have sort of hardcore vocals, so I hope you don’t get too mad about it.

  • So a couple of things: I agree with the scores here, even if I don’t necessarily agree with everything said. There’s just tremendous work going on here and it’s an awesome, well thought-out record that really is mind-blowingly put together. I am completely in love with this record.

    • Will it make me stop listening to Anciients for a while?

      • Possibly. Really bummed that I had to take a break form writing, ’cause Anciients is pretty damned good, innit?

  • Gipson

    I appreciate the well-written review – and positive is positive, so I’ll take it – but I’m coming from such a different place from the reviewer. For me, Antrhopocentric is the peak of a career in which there really hasn’t been a false step. Everything from Precambrian on is especially excellent. I mean just excellent. Precambrian, Helio and Anthro are all 5-star albums to me.

    (And I definitely don’t agree with the complaints about Anthro’s lyrics, which derive their power from their bluntness, not to mention working so well together as a whole and as an extension of the theme from Helio.)

    Excitement at an absolute fever pitch for this album. I skipped the instrumental stream though, as I don’t dig on instrumental music, and a large appeal of The Ocean’s music for me is their vocals, whether Loic or the previous singers. Clean and harsh, vocals (and lyrics) are what make The Ocean so special to me. Just raw, gut-wrenching power from open to close.

    • As both Noctus and I agree, this is really the best of both Heiocentric and Anthropocentric collapsed into one amaaaazing record. There are reasons for it you to have your expectations high, imo.

  • I’ve been aching for a good progressive metal album for a while, and this sounds very interesting. Great review!

  • Very glad to see the Giant Squid and Rosetta nods here. Although I think I like Pelican more than almost anything I’ve heard from The Ocean, the superlative comparison made me very interested about this particular record. I tried to hear the stream of the instrumental version but my browser kept crashing so I will have to wait a little more to hear this one. Thanks for the review!

  • Spot on
    review! I also agree this is their best and most cohesive album to date. The
    curious fact is that it was entirely written by guitarist Robin Staps, so I
    wonder if future releases will have the same sense of focus and cohesion with
    all other the other members contributing as well.

  • Richard Saunders

    November 2010, Solefald was given a “Fuck Yes” for their album (AMG).
    For me this is a “Fuck Yes” album!!!