…and Oceans – As in Gardens, So in Tombs Review

2020 saw the overdue restoration of Finland’s …and Oceans, lost to the wastes for nearly 20 years despite their earliest music releasing in parallel with such peers as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. Cosmic World Mother was a strong return to their original melodic black metal, tinged with symphonic and electronic elements they had acquired over subsequent releases. It featured a couple of my favorite black metal tracks from recent years which set up expectations for a successor. As in Gardens, So in Tombs has arrived but does it deliver?

The first qualities to strike me on As in Gardens were its blistering pace and incisive melodies, which aren’t dissimilar to Belzebubs. A strong, harmonic guitar tone sits at the top of the mix, dictating the direction and core sound of each track. Black metal doesn’t typically sound “enjoyable,” or “like power metal with blast beats,” but …and Oceans revel in distinct—almost upbeat—melodies. The faux-symphonic instrumentation sits behind the guitars, principally comprising a variety of strings but occasionally gilded with choral backing. It’s symphonic black metal in the same way that Emperor is; there are symphonic elements present, but they’re mixed relatively far back and never take the melodic reins from the lead guitars. It’s a lesson that all but the most sophisticated symphonic metal bands should observe. If a band wants their sound to have teeth, the classical instruments should complement the metal ones, and not the other way around. “Carried on Lead Wings” is one of the best examples of this, opening with an especially acrobatic lead that is embellished by low-key strings underneath.

If not already clear, As in Gardens is big. It eschews inventive songwriting in favor of grand melodies, resulting in a brand of melodic black metal which is uniquely bold. This is partly attributable to the harmonizing strings, but the songwriting leaves plenty of space for the melodies to sink their hooks. The quick guitars don’t bludgeon so much as dance, flitting rapidly but neatly between passages. For black metal, it’s showy, but make no mistake that black metal it remains. My descriptions may not convey something particularly dark or heavy but …and Oceans would still be utterly inaccessible to 99% of music listeners, given its pace, blast beats and crunchy shrieked vocals. But for ears already accustomed to blackened sounds, it’s strikingly accessible stuff. This explains the immediate impact As in Gardens has across its first couple of spins, where I believed I’d stumbled into my first 4.5 of the year. This initial fervor ultimately stabilized into a solid 3.5, but there are few examples of extreme metal that is so immediately engaging.

It’s also to As in Garden’s credit that the songs are tightly written and average only 4-5 minutes in duration. Disciplined, melody-oriented songwriting in a black metal scene that prioritizes repetition-induced atmosphere distinguishes …and Oceans from the crowd. But I’d argue that the songs here are disciplined to the point of rigidity and predictability. The few tracks that dip their toes into variety prove the rule that the majority are similar across the record. For example, “Wine into Water” opens gently with pretty strings and distant clean “oohs” and then transitions into one of the more uplifting leads, blending beauty and heaviness effectively across its opening minutes. Equally, “Inverse Magnification Matrix” introduces a carnivalesque organ that uses ascending and descending scales to lend a unique flavor. But these two contrast to most other tracks, which, while good, bleed into one another as their melodic and structural style is consistent. They otherwise lack truly outstanding features to elevate the music to the tier above.

As in Gardens falls right into the post-Emperor Goldilocks zone of melodic black metal, treading that sweet line between light and heavy, alluring but powerful. Existing fans of the sub-genre will lap this up, but unlike some of their peers, …and Oceans may also draw in newcomers. They’re so traditional in their blast beats and harsh vox, but so brazen in their melodic sensibilities, that they offer exactly the sort of gateway that fans of non-extreme metal might need to reach the dark side. This release is a rock-solid example of meloblack which doesn’t change the world but will surely entertain for the 50 minutes it runs.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: andoceans.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/andoceans
Releases Worldwide: January 27th, 2023

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