REVIEW: THE OCEAN – “Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic”
Germany’s The Ocean – often known as The Ocean Collective due to its rotating members – has been on both progressive and post-metal fans’ radar since their 2004 full-length debut, ‘Fluxion’. What really pushed the band into the spotlight, however, was ‘Heliocentric’ and ‘Anthropocentric’, both released in 2010. After that, came 2013’s ‘Pelagial’, which is most likely my favourite album of theirs, and other than a couple of EPs (including a split with Mono), the band was pretty silent on a new album until the announcement of a two-part, geologically-centred release, ‘Phanerozoic I & II’.
Historically obsessed with concepts surrounding Earth and space, The Ocean have outdone themselves this time around. Upon the release of ‘Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic’, probably the most impressive boxset known to man will become available (although I’m sure the pre-orders will have sold out by now); a wood-carved case containing your choice of vinyl or CD, with an enclosed 130-page photo-book, and three genuine fossils. A little tongue-in-cheek, but The Ocean is giving a whole new meaning to “rock music”.
As is to be expected, ’Phanerozoic II’ picks up from where its counterpart left off, but it is also different in the way that it is amply diverse and somewhat more experimental than previous material. ‘Phanerozoic I’ followed the structure of the band’s older material, bringing a bit of ‘Precambrian’’s cover art and subject matter, and a lot of style and ambience from ‘Heliocentric’. This latest album doesn’t stray from these roots, it only amplifies and expands upon them, sounding slightly more reminiscent of the rhythmically-driven ‘Pelagial’.
Coming out of ‘Phanerozoic I’ and the Palaeozoic era, The Ocean begins the Mesozoic era with the self-explanatory “Triassic”. A really great atmospheric start to the album that also flows well when listening to both albums back to back. This track is thick, heavy, and generally just something I could listen to on repeat. Following that is the longest track and first single of ‘Phanerozoic II’, “Jurassic / Cretaceous”, which happens to be the culminating period of time where tectonics shifted prominently, and plant life and dinosaurs thrived until the asteroid that hit the Yucatán hit restart on Earth – as described in a climactic final lyric, “we are just like reptiles, giant rulers of the world. Within the blink of an eye, wiped off the face of the Earth.” The use of accenting horns, chunky riffs, delicate percussion, and the addition of Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse make this track as epic as its lyrical content.
As we enter the Paleogene period of the Cenozoic era, “Palaeocene” showcases very prevalent bass both in mix and composition. The vocals also sound particularly intense and almost straining. “Eocene” is the first real break, so to speak, slowing down in pace with a vocal melody that sits perfectly on top of the floating groove of the guitars. The last epoch of the period, considered a time of transition, is the instrumental and ambient “Oligocene”, which is the second released single.
“Miocene / Pliocene” almost has the feel of beginning anew, exploring the second wave of depth and heaviness. The movement going from verse into chorus and back again gives one chills, the main clean vocal line is one of my favourite melodies delivered by frontman Loïc Rossetti. The last single, “Pleistocene”, is another fantastic track that also brings another side of the band into play. I visualized a promising jazz cover of this song upon first listen, subtle synths and strings along with an alternating 8 and 10-time signature were interesting enough, but the track then transforms into a slight ‘Precambrian’ fervour with high screams layered with blast beats. I absolutely love this one more and more with each spin.
Finally, we end our journey in our current period with “Holocene”. It starts off dark and foreboding, fittingly like the soundtrack to an apocalypse film. A soft vocal approach with decorative cymbal work and that ubiquitous bass guitar wind down the energy without sacrificing groove and catchiness. Even more cello is brought to light as well, working well with an aggressive electronic background.
Similar to the historic eras of this Earth and its inhabitants, The Ocean is evolving. Heavy, pulsating grooves throughout, prognostic and ominous lyrics and themes, and the usual intensity that a band such as The Ocean tends to provide. ‘Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / Cenozoic’ is exactly what fans want and expect, while also being their most progressive and metamorphic album to date. Extremely percussive and rhythmically driven, with substantial, weighty guitars and haunting programming for backbone, this much-anticipated album will disappoint neither new nor returning listeners. Produced by the legendary Jens Bogren, and described by the band themselves as being “closer to the experience of free fall”, what would you expect?