The Weight of THE OCEAN's Precambrian
Mar 6, 2009, 19:44
Deutschland's The Ocean began as a collective of musicians all revolving around central songwriter Robin Staps. After years of big ideas (the debut full-length was originally planned as a double album but scrapped probably due to the fact that no one knew them therefore wouldn't fund such an egotistical project [though it was finally re-released as just that, titled Fluxion/Aeolian by the good-hearted Throne Records]) and an eventual larger following, the lineup solidified. Constant touring and networking with the likes of Nate Newton (Converge/Doomriders) and Caleb Scofield (Cave In/Old Man Gloom) have been great for them as they now call one of the cornerstone metal labels Metal Blade home. Music this expansive and intricate needs the big bucks, sure, but The Ocean must also be smart enough to put it to good use. So they give us Precambrian (a term used for the supereon comprising the eons of the geologic timescale that came before the current Phanerozoic eon oh, you Germans) and (as a preview of the following) it is with the debris of a brain that this is being written. The songs themselves (nine in total, all titled after eras in the geological timescale) are so completely intricate and self-sufficient that the resulting smooth flow of the album as a whole becomes even more dumbfounding.
“Hadean” explodes in a Messhugah-esque time-fuck destined to revert the Earth itself back to a molten booger. After the listener grows accustomed to the push/pull, a solo, not unlike if Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman joined forces for a short time, further boggles the mind. Heavier and heavier it drills until there's nothing left and everything merely stops and the silence of space is heard. The Big Bang itself must've been eerily similar. “Eorchean” revolves around a simple (for these MÃ¤nner) rhythm but the end result is nonetheless punishing and instantly memorable, though far from memorizable. Cementing and forcing forward, Luc Hess's drums leap to the front much like a less-showy Brann Dailor and the closing gang chorus where all “Celebrate/the great emptiness of our lives” harks back to (dare I say) classic East Coast hardcore ala Youth of Today. These first few songs are punchy and meant to grab the listener in sensitive areas just to prepare for what is to come.
Now with ears attentive and limbs ready to stretch and heal from the bruising, “Paleoachean” opens up midway (after what sounds like witches and warlocks screaming hand in hand) to a calmer, melodic breakdown. Folks, this has merely begun and the evidence is the outro, a continuation of the melody subsequently brutalized by the fire and brimstone promised from a metal-hating preacher. “Mesoarchean” nods its fierce brow to both Remission-era Mastodon and Scum-y Napalm Death by balancing jaw-dropping exercises in both dual leads and blast beats. The roars of both Nico Webers and Michael Pilat summon the darkest beings and force the mighty lion to give up and be domesticated already.
Though a single would be impossible from such a weighty, intelligent collection, the closest candidate is “Neoarchean.” The misleading single guitar coupled with an almost basic drumbeat places a life jacket onto the listener. As everyone else joins in periodically and then permanently, a thousand clawed fingers rip off the device and push you deep into the water to meet the predators of the deep, too scared to surface and hunt you on your own turf. A solid, oldish-school Cavity sound is heard in the chorus to then retreat into half time with a classic breakdown that would have been revolutionary in an Integrity-era hardcore show. Evolution has made it par for the course but here it is done so perfectly that to question intent or outcome seems futile; this is as difficult as proving the existence or non- of god itself. Maybe (s)he is in the details of everything going on here. Something otherworldly is definitely holding it all together in a jelly-like force untouched by man.
“Siderian” allows a break, bathroom or not (one will not leave the room for the majority of this recording) complete with the saxophone, this reviewer's least favorite instrument. Luckily as it hovers far in the background, “Rhyacian” ebbs in with clean vocals and a soothing air perfect for those who've longed for an equal to their long lost Cave In. Xylophones and swirling guitars move into what seems like the heart of the song only to be completely disassembled and re-attached with a chugga here and a plick-pluck there. The aforementioned jelly force seems to also have the ability to overshadow another of my grimaced moments in music: clear, melodic singing on a metal album. So entrancing are the surroundings that the emotional wolverine licking its lips in the vicinity bothers none. Why? Fright and anticipation have taken over. What with what's already happened anything is truly possible. At 6:08 the gift is unwrapped and the eventual maelstrom envelopes everything around and one is thrown, once again, into the bowels of hell. As the searing inferno devours, all that comes to mind is, “Now I may cook the meat on my bones to devour it as I am starving.” This is the needed fire and rebirth of the natural world in music form.
The power restored in “Orosirian,” with its full-frontal repudiating of all things weak, carries Precambrian through yet another movement into the sublime. A violin balances Staps's mildly chorused guitar into the satisfying brutality of the dissonant, blackened outro where the compression seems overwhelmed with the rage of all three guitars chugging forward on what seems to be its first continental ride of destruction. The seemingly mellow instrumental “Statherian” introduces a sample describing the need for a rational integrity and then softly sleeps through the middle of a mid-century German village. The quaking, escalating ground beneath awakens the listener to finish out the byte and warn of upcoming catastrophes.
“Ectasian” begins with plucking piano and mourning cello, an obvious friendship as their duality makes for a pleasant full picture. As the riff, a dirge dragging its feet in the swamps of Eyehategod or Rwake, destroys any beauty left vibrating on the strings, the intelligence is still evident as the guitars and drums play in a world that the cello eventually builds the courage to join as well. The layers upon layers simply walk over any wall of sound that Spector built, traverse any canyon Isis find themselves screaming (crying) into, and push beauty and brutality together in such an unflawed way as to make Deathspell Omega come out of hiding to challenge The Ocean to a knife fight.
Nothing is perfect, not even a god-as-album. “Stenian” has the unfortunate melodic chorus that reminds one of a slowed At the Gates fierce gusto gone too sing-song-y. The simplicity of the marching snare unfortunately does not cover up the unneeded understood word. Subsequently, and unfortunately, the song never manages to pick itself back up again. Sure, a few minutes here and some there would've been ample but they obviously just couldn't tell the vocalist (there are four of them total on the track don't want to blame the wrong person), “Yeahâ€¦sorry. We just don't want your part in it.” On “Tonian,” a song with possibly the most disturbing riff (think of the Gojira stop/start mixed with an Aphex Twin off-kilter electronic buzz meant only to chide), it's all there, the softness, the bed of nails but again the melodies remain uninvited. On the side of The Ocean, however, is the brilliance of the music itself being just as evident as the rest of the album. Its delivery is what's in question. A bomb rested in their hands that had the power of an entire planet and they simply threw it away. Again, as an argument for the band, the closing number has the impossible job of anchoring this relay of near-perfect swimmers, all capable in different areas. It just ended up being too much to handle.
Precambrian is, to put it simply, the Dark Side of the Moon of modern metal (even Dark Side had the stepchild “Money”â€¦shudder). It has everything â€“ blinding radiance in its inattainablilty, a brain almost all its own forcing it to move and breathe, and an intelligence that will give it life long after The Ocean has been laid to rest in the same Earth that they've both trod upon and celebrated to their utmost ability. We should be looking forward to great, if not somehow greater, things from Robin Staps and company in the future. Presently let us revel in The Ocean now that we are finally able to breathe in it.
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