It’s a new year, and a new winter; that means we have to trek through the grim and frostbitten tracks of black metal. This year brings us As in Gardens, So In Tombs, the latest offering of Finnish symphonic black metal veterans And Oceans. For being around since 1998, it is almost criminal that And Oceans has only released a few records, the latest being 2020’s Cosmic World Order, which was a comeback record after twenty years of dormancy. Looks like the Finns are here to stay!
There’s something in Finnish waters that cause so many metal bands to fuse extreme metal tropes along with the almost uplifting vibe brought by powerful symphonies, and And Oceans is no different. Their brand of black metal ties in the ferocity of Norwegian and Swedish black metal with classically Finnish melodic sensibilities (think Children of Bodom, Kalmah, Ensiferum, Catamenia, etc.).
As in Gardens is not a short record, but does not feel overly stretched thin with plenty of standout tracks to instantly catch the listener’s attention. The first of which is “Within Fire and Crystal” hitting us with the one-two punch of violent tremolo-picked riffs backed with classic black metal blast beats at breakneck tempos coupled with an almost soothing synth melody giving us a mash of something quite unnerving, yet enjoyably so. An early favorite is “Likt Tornen Genom Kott” (Like Thorns Through Flesh) which effortlessly weaves melancholic mid-register riffs with a crushing black metal stomp, earmarked with a bass drop that can easily be mistaken for a thunderclap at every instance.
And Oceans, a band in the European black metal scene for almost thirty years is no stranger to prevalent tropes, especially those created by specific bands, and they expertly infuse these influences into their own songwriting. “Cloud Heads” opens with a synth arrangement that could easily have been placed in the early-era Cradle of Filth. This track also heavily features electronic elements like phasers and glitches, again mirroring Filth, and is surprising in a genre that prides itself in being too high-minded for grin-worthy gimmicks.
As in Gardens, So In Tombs excels when it does not linger in any particular genre trapping or stereotype for very long. And Oceans is at their best when they play with different tempos and moods, as seen as the mid-tempo chugs on “Wine into Water” that add much-needed space in otherwise industrial-level dense black metal. Speaking of dense, hoo-boy we get fully And Oceans claustrophobic arrangements in “Inverse Magnification Matrix”, easily among the most fatiguing of the record, but in a “need a smoke after this” way! Unfortunately, all songs of girth aren’t created equal, the seven-minute “Ambivalent God” is ironically named, generating no real spark and carries more fat and self-importance than is required for a record of this stature. Fortunately, And Oceans swings back into form with “Samlarens Valv” (Collector’s Vault) and “Third Eye Catalyst”.
While the instrumentation on this record is trying its best to stay as variegated as possible within the constraints of the expansive genre, the vocals tend to fall short in their range. The high register but not quite Abbath rasp vocals, while perfectly serviceable in a black metal band, feel a wee bit bland in a band trying to constantly explore new sonic territories. In fact, the vocals were at their best when the rasps were traded for more traditional death metal growls. When coupled with the chunkier guitar riffs, the overall effect had higher returns than your average black metal fare.
… And Oceans are here to stay and still have something to say with their newest record “As in Gardens, So In Tombs”. A dense mix of menacing black metal coupled with all the emotive weight of symphonic melodies; these guys prove that Finland continues to be among the best countries to produce quality extreme metal.