ALBUM REVIEW: The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic

Release Date: November 2nd 2018
Label: Metal Blade Records


The Ocean are a special sort of band. Not particularly massive in the mainstream environment, they have a large cult following within progressive metal circles despite their sound having swung a fair amount since their inception back in 2000.

Founding member, guitarist, and programmer, Robin Staps, has steered the ship through no less than 40 line-up changes in the first couple of years of the band’s existence but nevertheless have had a stable line-up since 2013.

The beauty of the The Ocean‘s distinct style and lyrical narrative is one of the things that really draws you in. While their early records, including both 2005’s ‘Aeolian’ and 2007’s ‘Precambrian’, were primarily progressive death metal albums, the introduction of new vocalist Loïc Rossetti in 2009 has spearheaded the band into a cleaner (at least vocally) area of the progressive metal genre, with soaring soundscapes and serene vocals trading off with their trademark heavy backbone.

Referring to their narrative style, ‘Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic’ – the seventh studio record in the band’s discography and the first in five years – tells the story of The Cambrian Explosion and the subsequent Ordovician period. The Phanerozoic eon succeeded the Precambrian supereon spanning a 500 million-year period leading to the present day, witnessing the evolution and diversification of plant and animal life on Earth, including the partial destruction of it during five mass extinction events.

Conceptually and musically, The Ocean‘s ‘Phanerozoic…’ is the missing link between the aforementioned ‘Precambrian’ and 2013’s ‘Heliocentric/Anthropocentric’ double album. All in all it’s full-on for the average metalhead, but there’s heaps of interesting and thoroughly engrossing subtext should one want to study every layer.

Gentle introduction ‘The Cambrian Explosion’ gives a sci-fi edge to that aforementioned narrative before ‘Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence’ introduces some incredibly heavy vocals courtesy of Rossetti, mixed in with some soaring melodies. Underlying to the vocal assault is a repetitive guitar riff that is simple in composition, but is complimented by some technical, heavy-hitting drumming while some reliably apocalyptic sounding guitar work trades off with the odd death metal rumble.

‘Ordovicium: The Glaciation Of Gondwana’, another fantastically titled track, unveils a slow, lurching vocal style in comparison to Tool‘s own Maynard James Keenan. There’s little in the ‘traditional’ sense from this band, and the melodic and anthemic tendencies throughout this track are often interspersed with harrowing screams from one minute to the next; forever playing games with the your thought process when trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.

Following on from that statement, there is truly an awful lot to take in with everything that this band release, and it will undoubtedly take several listens surrounded in solitary confinement to get the most from this record. ‘Silurian: Age Of Sea Scorpions’ at a nine-minute running length is a good example of this, displaying some gentile moments of emotiveness before ‘Devonian: Nascent’, an eleven-minute opus of intensity building into an outrageously bleak and heavy crescendo (with prominent guest vocals from Jonas Renske of Katatonia). All of this couple with songs like ‘Permian: The Great Dying’, referencing an event when 95% of all life on Earth was wiped out, the bleak outlook of this record is present in spades.

‘Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic’ is the first of a two-part release, a concept that The Ocean are certainly no strangers to, with part two due to be announced at some point in 2019/2020. If their sound continues in a similar vein, then you can expect another super high-quality production job on top of mesmerisingly wonderful progressive metal.

However, knowing the characteristics of Staps et al, you may find the band swerving in a totally different direction yet again.