It has been five years since the patron metal band of geologists, The Ocean, gave us the excellent Pelagial, a masterpiece that deftly combined post metal, prog, hardcore, and doom into an earth-shaking tour de force. Can they up the ante here on part one of a two part double album, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic?
The seven songs on Phanerozoic I traverse the six periods of the Palaeozoic era, and The Ocean waste no time getting into it with “The Cambrian Explosion” and “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence.” Opening with strings and piano rather than the sound of water, an ominous melody instantly worms its way into our brains, and “Cambrian II” is as heavy as any of the band’s earlier work, with thick rhythm and heavy guitars giving way to Loïc Rossetti’s hardcore screaming.
There are plenty of dynamics in this ten minute opener, though, with the song sliding back into a murky keyboard-and-cello quiet moment, and Rossetti switching effortlessly between harsh vocals and clean. He’s often the star of the album, with subtle variances in his voice on each song. And when he’s not singing, as on the first half of the fantastic “Devonian: Nascent,” we hear Katatonia’s Jonas Renske’s haunting voice.
Phanerozoic I is a master class in vocal production, and marrying the voice to the feel and intention of the song, but that’s not to take anything away from the other five members of the band. Each track here is meticulously arranged, with new bassist Mattias Hägerstrand and drummer Paul Seidel laying down a primordial foundation for founder Robin Staps to interweave aggression and subtlety with his guitar. Peter Voigtmann joins the band on synth, adding another layer of intricacy to the puzzle, and of course Dalai Theofilopoulou’s cello playing adds eerie overtones in many places.
From beginning to end we’re treated with fantastic songwriting that keeps pace with the musicality these guys bring. Unlike Pelagial, which was one extended suite, these songs stand on their own. The weakest song, “Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana,” is simply the weakest due to the fact that there is little movement in it from it’s opening, immediate post-hardcore abrasiveness, and the other tracks bring much more depth to the album.
Take the album’s second single, “Devonian: Nascent,” with Katatonia’s Jonas Renske on the clean vocals. It opens softly, with cello and clean guitar, layers added in until the vocals join to an almost dystopian backing track. The song gets slowly heavier, with Rossetti’s harsh vocals accompanying and then overtaking Renske, until two-thirds of the way in there’s a hypnotic breakdown that makes you want to crank the stereo. This is one of the best songs of the year, from any band.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Album closer “Permian: The Great Dying” features an angular riff beneath a harsh/clean mix of vocals decrying the potential for another mass extinction. And like the other songs on Phanerozoic I, the song’s dynamics and arrangement are gripping, and the final two minutes leave us eager for Part II, slated for 2020.
Progressive post metal doesn’t get any better than The Ocean, and they once again prove themselves to be the leaders of the genre with Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. Distilling the best elements of bands like Neurosis, Cult of Luna, and (this time, anyhow) Katatonia, and combining those elements in impeccably arranged and produced songs, gives us one of the strongest albums of the year.
(released November 2, 2018 on Metal Blade Records)
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Watch The Ocean – “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence” Video