The Ocean have in recent years been among the most exciting and forward-thinking bands in the progressive metal genre, particularly those bands on the more extreme side of things. They frequently have experimented with their signature heavy sound over the years, adding more progressive and atmospheric elements. They have taken this approach to its logical conclusion with their upcoming release ‘Holocene’ which is heavily built on electronic elements to create one of their most interesting releases.
This new work is the last in a trilogy that began with 2018’s ‘Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic’ which deals with the later epochs of the Earth. Our current era is considered the Holocene extinction event or the ongoing extinction created by mankind. Conceptually the band deals more with the extinction of society and critical thinking in the era of social media and ongoing conspiracy theories. Musically, much of the album is quite mellow in nature and strongly electronic, with the heavier moments and aggressive vocals slowly building at the end of songs; this is particularly true in the second half of the album. The band took a slightly different approach with the writing this time around with every song having been started by synth player Peter Voigtmann as opposed to starting with a guitar riff. The songs are fairly short by the band’s standards, with none exceeding the ten-minute mark, but the time is used well and the album builds a palatable atmosphere throughout.
The album begins with “Preboreal” and the sound of simple key lines and beats before being joined by the voice of Loïc Rossetti and lightly strummed guitars and live drumming. The main lyrical theme of the loss of knowledge and critical thinking are immediate. The music slowly builds with intensity until it reaches the simmering point, but at no point does it boil over into a full metallic onslaught. This is the pattern for the first few songs, they build the tension, but never quite release it the way the listener expects them to. I find it quite effective, but some listeners may find themselves disappointed at the first listen, but repeated listens will allow the nuances of the writing and interplay between guitarists Robin Staps and David Ramis Åhfeldt.
The mood begins to change a bit by the time we get to “Atlantic.” The song begins as the quietest on the album thus far, and the music has a bit of a Kraftwerk feel to it for the first half. At around the eight and a half minute length, it’s one of the longest songs on the album, and it uses the time to full effect with a steady increase of musical drive and heaviness with the repeated lyrics of ‘how can you say that you love me / when all you seek is revenge?’ Finally, the tension gets to the point when it simply must be released, and it finally is with an eruption of heaviness and the first screams of the album. The result is utterly euphoric.
As with the first two albums in this trilogy, ‘Holocene’ includes a song with a guest vocalist. The song “Unconformities” has the Swedish-Norwegian electronic artist and songwriter Karin Park. I’m not familiar with her work, but her voice works quite well with the music, which is surprisingly light on the electronic element, and features some notable drumming from Paul Seidel. About halfway through Rosetti takes over on vocals, and the song quickly builds to some of the heaviest and most aggressive music and vocals on the album, and are some of its finest moments.
Only two songs remain, but both are worth talking a bit about. The first is “Parabiosis” which was the first song to be released with a rather evocative music video back in February. The song is chiefly an observation, and ultimately a condemnation of the obsession of creating false youth, and thinking that medicine can ever fully conquer death, and what that would mean to humanity. Ultimately fooling with the laws of nature will never end well for any of us. The final song is “Subatlantic” which fittingly being with the soothing sound of waves and water before a quiet flute is heard and the main song begins. It is consistently one of the heavier songs on the album and includes some Middle Eastern influences and female vocalizations. Continuing with the main theme of manmade extinction, this song tackles the climate crisis, global warming, and the rising of the oceans. ‘Take heed its getting warm… it’s not going away’ these lyrics are repeated throughout, and the album’s heaviest moments close out with predictions of our own doom.
With ‘Holocene’ The Ocean have released another incredibly powerful and thought-provoking album. Unique among their catalog with its increased focus on electronic music, it is nevertheless firmly in the progressive metal camp and will bring a lot of enjoyment for fans of the band. The closing of this musical trilogy is a full success, and I imagine that the upcoming live performances of it will be something special indeed.
Overall Sound9/10 AmazingWith ‘Holocene’ The Ocean have released another incredibly powerful and thought-provoking album.
Songwriting & Lyrics9/10 AmazingUnique among their catalog with its increased focus on electronic music, it is nevertheless firmly in the progressive metal camp and will bring a lot of enjoyment for fans of the band.