German prog metallers, The Ocean (The Ocean Collective), have released their 7th studio album called Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. Good luck pronouncing that one.
Phanerozoic relates to a geologic time period, basically the current eon that started some 540 million years and runs still currently today. The Phanerozoic eon is made up of different eras. The first of those, which apparently ran from 541 million years ago until approximately 240 million years ago is called the Palaeozoic Era. There you go, we are all educated now, back to the album.
The Ocean were formed back in 2000 by guitarist Robin Staps. Their early years were unsettled, with over 40 different members joining and leaving in the first two years. They really only had a settled line up from around 2009. This is when they were recording for the albums Heliocentric and Anthropocentric which both came out in 2010. Another raft of changes came afterwards and today they stand as a 4 piece. Robin Staps looks after guitars and programming. Loïc Rossetti is the lead vocalist and Paul Seidel is on drums. On bass its Mattias Hägerstrand.
Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic is their first album in 5 years, since 2013’s Pelagial. It consists of 7 tracks and is around 48 minutes in total length. It is a concept album, addressing the different eras of Earth and the events known that changed the planet during it’s lifecycle so far. The first of these is the introductory track, The Cambrian Explosion. This introduces the album with a just under 2 minute, ambient synth instrumental. It comes across ethereal and sets the tone for what is to come.
Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence follows the intro. It has a slower groove to the track, fading out for a second of sampling before coming straight back in with mighty force, not unlike the powerful events they are depicting. Vocals are rough and powerful, the bass is thick and reverberating. Alongside the sludgy sound, there are dashes of melody and synth adding more layers and the vocals switch between dark and unclean to clean and harmonic offering a lovely contrast. This multi layered sound is dominant across the whole album, forcing you to think and pick tracks apart mentally. This allows you to appreciate each individual element while being in awe of the sound they all create together.
Variety is plentiful across the album despite the overall tone and layered effect being so dominant. It comes in little switch ups and structural intricacies. It also comes in the addition of different instruments for additional layers. On one track, Devonian: Nascent we get a brilliant guest vocal slot by Jonas Renkse of Katatonia. Devonian is one of the longest tracks, and most expansive on the album at over 11 minutes. It flies by though in a wave of glorious guitar melody and intense drumming. Heavier vocals take centre stage near the end as we enter into a brilliant crunching riff and drum section.
I love the instant heavy start of Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana. It took me by surprise in the most wonderful way. Heaviness builds as the song passes adding layer upon layer, working in clever guitar lines and intermittent drum patterns. The piano section on Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions is morose but refreshing after a heavily layered, occasionally challenging track. The penultimate track, and one hell of a title, is The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse. It is a 3 minute instrumental that I really like as it leans heavily on riffs and drums over synth. This leads into the 9 and a half minute end track, Permian: The Great Dying.
This is probably my favourite song on the album. Though it’s a close call between a few. I like the intro riff and the cymbal heavy drum crashes. It leads into a heavy verse with punching vocals. The uncleans make way for clean vocals for the next section. The instruments become a little restrained to allow the vocals to shine but then it all builds back up. We end up with crashing instruments, melodic riffs and harmonised clean/uncleans which I adore. Great song closing a great album.
With so much going on, there can be a worry of things sounding muddled or confused but Phanerozoic avoids that, instead sounding clever and interesting. Musically exciting, structurally clever, loads of melody, piano and a mix of harsh vocals and clean vocals that work well together. There is a lot to like here though some might find it a challenging listen. I think many more will find themselves engaged and intrigued with it, soaking in the melody and letting loose in the heaviness.
A lot of thought and effort goes into The Ocean’s work. Songs were written in a secluded house near the sea. Tracks were started on in Iceland. Drums were recorded in a big drum room with great natural reverb located in a bleak and beautiful place surrounded by nature. The remainder of the album was tracked in Berlin. A brass section was recorded, and previous collaborators Vincent Membrez (piano) and long-time live cellist Dalai Theofilopoulou are featured.
Lyrically, the songs are reflective and thought-provoking, and Phanerozoic is no exception. The concept is explained by guitarist, Stap – “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“.
Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic by The Ocean (Metal Blade)
The Final Score - 8.5/10