In 2018, the multi-national collective of post-metal eccentrics, THE OCEAN, released the first half of a sprawling palaeontology concept album, ”Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic.” It was probably the band’s most conceptual work to date – until now. On 25 September 2020, THE OCEAN are poised to release the eagerly-awaited conclusion to the Phanerozoic journey, titled ”Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic,” via Metal Blade Records and the album will be released also as a vinyl edition through the band’s own label, Pelagic Records. The new album first sets you free-floating into outer space, like a planet of rock, and then – without warning – crushes you like the asteroid, speeding at 45,000 miles per hour, that slammed into the waters off the Yucatán Peninsula some 66 million years ago. All the songs are named after geological epochs in Earth’s history, almost all of which have been marked by mass extinction. In the last 500 million years, life on Earth has faced five catastrophic mass extinctions, often referred to as the ”Big Five.” On their new album, THE OCEAN, poses us the question: are we dealing out the sixth?
The saga begins with ”Triassic” – a song named after the geological epoch some 250 million years ago that was marked by the single worst cataclysmic event life on Earth has ever experienced, the Permian-Triassic extinction, which killed off 96 percent of all marine species and about ¾ of species on land. The crushing post-metal riffs counterpoint the ethereal ebb and flow of clean guitar arpeggios and pulsating synths, conveying the feeling of total desolation rather beautifully.
”Cataclysmic” would be a perfect adjective to define the second track on the album too. Its title ”Jurassic | Cretaceous” refers to the age of the dinosaurs, those giant reptiles that were wiped off the face of the Earth within the geological blink of an eye. The cause of this particular extinction remains hotly debated, but it’s highly probable that it was triggered by a chunk of space rock that hit the Mexican Peninsula at the time – ”a radiant collapse, planetary scale,” as Jonas Renkse of KATATONIA muses on the latter half of this mammoth, 13-minute-epic of a song, against a hauntingly captivating fractal synth sequence. The instant KATATONIA flashback cannot be avoided, but it is soon dissolved by the crushing riffs and the post-metal belting of vocalist Loïc Rossetti. This epic alone should give the album a high priority status on anyone’s record store shopping list. As for other collaborators, having proved his kinship and chemistry already on three previous THE OCEAN albums, vocalist Tomas Liljedahl of the Swedish post-metal outfit, BREACH, contributes guest vocals on a few tracks.
By the third track, ”Palaeocene,” the outlines of the album’s narrative are shaping into form; the band’s primus motor, guitarist and composer Robin Staps and his comrades, draw emotional parallels between the Earth’s temporal tides and the human experience amidst the looming sixth mass extinction – the one that’s after us, instead of claiming cute and furry little animals. THE OCEAN pulls on the listener’s heartstrings by utilizing the allure of haunting, atmospheric textures, as in ”Oligocene” and ”Holocene,” or by resorting to full-on black metal aesthetics, as in ”Pleistocene.” Some wordsmiths define post-metal as a mixture of Brian Eno and SLAYER, but THE OCEAN is a slightly different bunch. The austere, sludgy passages are reminiscent of CULT OF LUNA, maybe with the Slavic melancholy turned down a notch, while the more languid parts conveying a somewhat candlelit mood of introspection balance between post-rock and the ambient electronica of artists such as BOLA. This is music that begs for emotional, tactile responses, ranging from sadness to suspense.
The new album by THE OCEAN is even more experimental and eclectic than its predecessor – a genuine journey into the great unknown. A profound cautionary tale, ”Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic,” is underpinned by some of the most imaginative and challenging music that this crazy bunch has made yet. It’s a highly ambitious effort – and it delivers triumphantly. The album assaults you with a tectonic force, crushing you in the most beautiful way possible. ”Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic” would be the perfect soundtrack for the next planetary-scale collision, an album to put on while watching as the world we know will go down in flames.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Jurassic | Cretaceous
- Miocene | Pliocene
Robin Staps – guitar, programming, backing vocals
Loîc Rossetti – lead vocals
Paul Seidel – drums
Mattias Hägerstrand – bass
David Ramis Åhfeldt – guitar
Peter Voigtmann – synths
Metal Blade Records
Pelagic Records (vinyl edition)