Album Review: The Ocean - Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
Reviewed by Robbie Maguire
Music has soldiered on doggedly, at least in the recorded setting, over the past six months. Having been the source of many peoples comfort this is set to continue at least for now.
Of the mass of bands releasing albums presently it seems ironic yet right that progressive post metal titans The Ocean, a band whose environmental credentials and interest in the relationship we have with our natural world, would release such a relevant album. Relevant in that the centrepiece from the 'Phanerozoic II ; Mesozoic | Cenozoic' is based on the extinction of pretty much all lifeforms on earth.
Fairly topical but then that’s not the intention of The Ocean. The second part of the jigsaw made up with 2018s 'Phanerozoic I' this ambitious follow up was always going to be one of the most pertinent important albums this year even before the notion of a worldwide pandemic was dreamt about.
From the energising electronic intro of 'Triassic' The Ocean effortlessly reel you into their intricately heavy progressive web. A web which for fifty minutes you are fully immersed in. The post rock sensibilities are evident as the opening track reveals its subtle majesty. Seismic riffs, whilst commanding do not carry all the focus and much of ones attention is placed on the electrifying and wonderful communion of bassy, thundering grooves and punishing drums. Building not only in tension but in intensity whilst seemingly remaining refined.
That intensity takes on a new dimension as the colossal angular chords come crashing through at the start of the epic 'Jurassic | Cretaceous’. The sonic power of this ambitious and sweeping song hits you instantly. Over the course of its thirteen minutes you are pulled into to a multilayered celebration of all that makes progressive music so addictive and all encompassing. Pianos and synths dance in a hypnotic union with punishing rumble of a crisp bass sound whilst the subtle placing of brass instrumentation is a welcome inclusion and never feels not out of place. Differing range and styles of vocals be it those of Loic Rosetti or the harsh delivery from returning guest Tomas Liljedahl, he of post metal pioneers Breach, tell of the point in earths history where an asteroid nearly obliterated all lifeforms. The impact of these and their contrasts will ensure your attention will dare not wander from the tale. The smooth and warming guest vocals of Jonas Renske (Katatonia) heightening the beauty that raises its evocative head occasionally. Yet if ever there was a soundtrack to that apocalyptic episode in earth’s history then this is it. The impassioned cries of
"we are just like reptiles, giant rulers of the world,
within the blink of an eye, wiped off the face of the earth."
are seemingly more foreboding in today’s present climate and if ever we needed more clarification that the fragility of our existence has never been more in focus, then that’s it there.
It seems the track is slowly building up to something very special. That’s apparent with the first listen yet after each repeated playback the crescendo the song has been threatening to explode into is every bit as special.
Where though can this album go after reaching such a scintillating high? A high you’d maybe expect the band to close out the album on. Such though is the vision and belief in their craft that The Ocean unfurl more delights from their post rock armoury which ensure the album continues on the all engaging high that it has reached at this point. The fact they have created an album to reflect the magnitude of the subject matter is no mean feet and whilst there is so much depth and content within the album it is a wonderfully easy listen.
The introspective instrumental 'Oligocene' alters the dynamics adding a reflective point at the heart of the album. Its light, airy intro allows for an understated yet infectious listen. The sweeping repetitive drums hold your focus whilst the delicacy of the background sounds add texture and hint further to the bands progressive leanings. The Ocean deftly scatter these moments of contemplation across the album but prescribing a whole song at this point is indeed a restorative and soothing triumph.
Also scattered across the album are moments of ferocious heaviness. The kind where you just have to marvel at how ridiculously easy and fluid The Ocean make it sound. The black metal-esque drumming parts supplemented by raucous, harrowing vocals of 'Miocene | Pliocene' again reveals a darker, less refined side to the many faces of this album. The dark and sludgy 'Pleistocene' with its progressive time changes adding further variety and flavour. The ease with which The Ocean effortlessly integrate these sounds and styles into their music is to be commended. As is their ability to switch the atmosphere and character so deftly. As the sophisticated elegance of the brooding 'Holocene' with its mournful strings draws the album to a close you are calmly bought back down from this journey and sonic high.
'Phanerozoic II' is a truly ambitious piece of work and an example of how well crafted and expertly executed music can yield so much for the listener. The rewards from this in sonic satisfaction and in emotional gratification will be revealed on each repeated listen. Simply put, it's a monstrous piece of art!