Tool, Mastodon, Neurosis. Three bands that are known for being absolute juggernauts in the progressive and post-metal genres. Their ability to weave musical tapestries and bring life to aural constructs is nothing short of entrancing. Their output has earned them strong acclaim and made them metal icons. But a name is sorely missing from this list: The Ocean.
Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic is the 10th album by the European collective and the conclusion to their praised 2018 full-length, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. 20 years have passed since their foundation as German guitarist Robin Stap’s passion to create a progressive tribute to Sweden’s Breach (who’s vocalist Tomas Hallbom makes an appearance on “Palaeocene”) and evolve their sound and their existential lyrics continues. While the lyrics on Phanerozoic I seemed to focus on a narrative of new growth and separation, Phanerozoic II appears to focus on stress and extinction. In typical fashion for The Ocean, much of the music is still beautifully composed with a heavy edge to accent the depth of the lyrics, but the chaotic, imposing doom of the content has never been more succinct than in “Pleistocene” when the lyrics “You say your soul is consumed by guilt/Your faith in him won’t be serving you” give way to a relentless wall of percussion accompanied with black metal influenced wailing vocals.
Robin Stap had said that this album was intended to be “more experimental, more eclectic in musical style and direction” and it clearly shows. Having followed this band since 2004’s Fluxion I never once expected to use the term “black metal” to describe any aspect of their sound, but that isn’t the only new influence on this album. I had always felt that The Ocean had drawn inspiration from the same ether that drives Tool, but for the first time I hear a direct influence from Tool themselves, especially on some basslines and vocal phrasing in the later half of the album. Another unique influence is shown on the instrumental track “Oligocene” which almost feels like a dark 80’s movie score, fitting right in with the recent resurgence of synthwave. Both notable outside influences which still work well with their standard songwriting formula.
After numerous listens, I’m still amazed at The Ocean’s ability to write such engaging releases with deep lyrics influenced by eras of time – talk about your niche concepts. My reactionary complaint is that the album feels short and leaves me wanting more. Which is actually a really good sign when you realize that this eight song album clocks in at over fifty minutes. For a first instinct after almost an hour of listening to be “I need more” just shows you the quality of the album. And it’s been my experience, that this is the type of quality you can always trust to come from the collective.
Written by Ted Berger
*Edited by Dominic Abate