Album Review: The Ocean - Phanerozoic Live
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings
I’ve never really spent much time with the Berlin outfit, dipping in and out of their music without paying too much attention, which is something of an embarrassment given their longevity of over two decades and their almost uncategorisable music. As introductions go, 103 minutes of live music might have initially appeared daunting and a little excessive? It needed to be good to hold my attention, and whilst I am sure fans of the band will want to flail me with barbed branches for my naivety, it did indeed provide me with enough. In fact, it was superb.
The concept behind this release is about the simplest thing here. Their ‘Phanerozoic’ concept album performed live in its entirety – but at a time when no live music was taking place. ‘Phanerozoic I’ was streamed live from Pier 2 in Bremen on 25 March 2021 with 2020’s ‘Phanerozoic II’ recorded live just days later at synth player’s Peter Voigtmann’s rural studio ‘Die Mühle’. The Ocean rehearsed and recorded ‘Phanerozoic II’ in its entirety during the following three days with the performance aired on April 16 as part of the digital edition of Roadburn Festival, the aptly named ‘Roadburn Redux’.
Whilst there is no crowd noise on the recordings, the tension and atmosphere of a live show transmits. The abrupt stop after ‘Ordovicium’ would usually have been met with appreciative applause and roars, the semi-electronic feel of ‘Silurian’ casting magical spells even in its digital form. The piece switches from crushing heaviness to ethereal and poignant passages. Nothing is thrown together, each segment carefully planned and delegated and delivered only when complete.
For those new to The Ocean, the savage roars and stunning clean vocals work in harmony throughout. The savagery contrasts superbly with the more relaxed elements that allow the bass work of Mattias Hägerstrand to come to the fore. This provides the crisp clear tone of the guitars and allows each song to breath and develop organically. The lengthy ‘Silurian’ and ‘Devonian’ allow you to close your eyes and immerse yourself in a journey that weaves and envelops the listener completely. This is complex and intricate, a blend of post metal, alt rock, black metal, and a few other genres as well. Being relatively new to the band, it’s also music that you soon realise is anything but instantaneous. This is not your average meat and two veg thrasher and devoting time is something essential to fully appreciate the quality.
Having become immersed in ‘Phanerozoic I’, the delight of this release is to be able to experience an immediate follow on with ‘Phanerozoic II’. It really is a joy to be able to spend time working through such gloriously weaved and crafted releases. The Arabic flavours of ‘Triassic’ with its random tempos and variation within the nine minutes provide a rich tapestry that invites you to enter and once drawn in, it’s unlikely that you’ll leave.
Whilst ‘Phanerozoic I’ is littered with thunderously lengthy songs, it’s the opening duo of ‘Phanerozoic II’ that provide the biggest hitters. ‘Triassic/Cretaceous’ is simply stunning. A blistering combination of styles, thunderous riffs and calmer melodic passages combine with a feel that only Tool can get close to. It was ample for me to log The Ocean as a band to spend much more time with in the near future.
By all accounts the actual physical package is something special, not that we get to see that. With a trifold package including cover art from Norwegian artist and long-term friend and collaborator, Martin Kvamme, filigrane copper foil embossing of a bitmapped live photography from the Bremen event, three vinyl records in printed inner sleeves, a DVD and a concert ticket with a streaming and HD video download link to both concerts. For fans of the band this must be heaven, and for those not as familiar, it’s possibly a gateway to musical riches that need to be explored and experienced.