The Ocean – “Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic” (Metal Blade Records)
Behold! Known to cover planetary events with ease given their gargantuan prog metal soundscapes whose range is impressively matched by depth, The Ocean return after 5 years of touring with this 8th album, split into 2 volumes the 2nd of which will arrive in 2020. The missing link between the albums “Precambrian” and “Heliocentric / Anthropocentric”, “Phanerozoic…” takes on the massive 500 million year period witnessing the evolution and diversification of plant and animal life on Earth, not to mention no less than 5 mass extinction events!!! Typically conceived by founder guitarist Robin Staps in the splendid isolation of a house by the sea, the 7 incredibly deep and atmospheric tracks, while not overtly long as some might expect, resonate vibrant energy throughout, reflecting high level musical performances including those of previous collaborators Vincent Membrez (piano), longtime live cellist Dalai Theofilopoulou and Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse. Recorded from Iceland to Berlin, with Jens Bogren (Katatonia, Opeth) handling mixing and mastering duties, the sound on “Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic” is, as you might expect, second to none in providing the immersive medium from which to appreciate the lavish material both in joy and awe. Penned with both climate change and Nietzsche in mind, Staps has successfully created a masterpiece that conceptually and musically captures this to perfection across its bleak and heavy songs. ‘Devonian: Nascent’ is the longest track at 11 minutes, and is unhurried as its builds beautifully from its gentle beginnings to becoming steadily more charged in its combination of power melodies and delicate guitar chimes backed by the technical drum work, which itself is controlled between quieter percussion and more heavy handed beats. With plenty of contrasts, including the primordial roars of Jonas Renkse adding even more intensity, you can literally visualise the titanic struggle of life and death as it unfolds before you. Through dirty, almost grungy guitars, ‘Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions’ unleashes a strong djent vibe of contrasting grooves, laced atop by some tasty exotic guitar melodies before the drums and bass come crashing in, vividly painting a picture of a stark world ranging from tiny, planktonic creatures to giant 6 foot scorpions!! With massive cymbal work on ‘Permian: The Great Dying’, Loïc Rossetti’s magnificent contrasting hoarse screaming and melancholic soul have modern relevance in bringing to one’s mind not just past cataclysmic events, but through its ethereal keyboard atmospherics, the more subtle but equally profound current state of global warming and its deadly future impact as tumultuously sounded by crashing power riffs and pounding drum work – definitely a brilliant epic to end the album on in its strong after thoughts. If this was the end of the world, then this would be the music I’d want to go out to.