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: facebook.com/theoceancollective | myspace.com/theoceancollective
Release Dates: EU: 2013.04.29 NA: 04.30.2013
No 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 other 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.
It 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.