Fresh from Sundlaugin Studios in Iceland comes “Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic” from German Progressive outfit The Ocean (sometimes known as The Ocean Collective). It’s an album of extremes, swinging between calm, serene passages into claustrophobic bouts of mayhem to great dramatic effect.
The theme of the album is unending recurrence, exemplified by the six Paleozoic periods of Earth. These Begin with the Cambrian era through to the Permian. As Guitarist and principal songwriter Robin Staps explains “Nietzsche’s concept that everything happens over and over again, an infinite amount of times throughout infinite time and space. When you look at Earth’s history you find a lot of evidence for this: continents have collided and drifted apart across the oceans and collided again, life nearly disappeared various times but then resurged again… this album is essentially about time, perception of time, and repetition. It is about coming to terms with the fact that there are things in life which will recur and which we cannot change and finding ways of dealing with that”.
The songwriting and structures are emotionally charged in a sort of breathing pattern where the quieter parts are a calm inhale and the extreme parts are the violent exhale. All the while, there are fascinating chord progressions scratching throughout that are bowed by silky bass lines that weave in between the compositions. It gives the music a sense of ever present anxious tension that builds, resolves and gives way to plateaus of epic musicianship and repeating the cycle over again. Dissonant chords, aggressive growls, pummeling bridges, wonderful cleans and a sprinkling of electronic influence can be found throughout. The songs are of a relatively slower pace though, at times, the subdivisioning goes out of control and gets squishy in a really nice way.
The album begins with “The Cambrian Explosion” into “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence”. Apart from having a fantastic music video, has a rhythmic feel that is fairly odd in a really cool way. It has a sort of, hanging feel to it. Although it’s primarily in a standard 4/4 time signature, there are signature changes that continually sneak up on the listener. Enough to break up the composition but not enough to break the listeners concentration and immersion.
For a seven minute track it passes very quickly and that’s mainly thanks to the thoughtful progressive structure of the music allowing for progressive repetition and not staying in the one place for too long a time.
“Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana” kicks straight into a grooving riff accompanied by growls, picking up the energy where the “Cambrian” left off, before repeating the pattern of tension, release, plateau. Much of the album employs this theme while grafting an imaginative pastiche of colorful chordal movements and rhythm over the top of these foundations.
This is met with an interesting sound design which is dynamic, clean yet crunchy in many places. Backing off the gas during interludes before hammering home many intense moments, one could say The Ocean changes from low to high tide. Sounds like a joke, and I guess it kind of is, but the visual of such a phenomenon would be an accurate description of the production. The keys and synths twinkle and pound at various times and counterbalance the movements between the Guitars, Drums and Bass which is headed by the Vocal performances and production. It’s energetic and instantly attention grabbing.
The production overall is highly transparent and every instrument can be heard clearly, even when things get heavy. This emphasises the note choices within the music as well as the tonality of the instruments.
“Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic” is an immense album that in my opinion, looks at our zeitgeist with little surprise or wonder. It points out that historically speaking, we aren’t doing anything to ourselves that wouldn’t have happened anyway. The proclamation of that message is delivered in style and substance, this album is a must listen.
Pre order your copy of Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic HERE