(DGR wrote this.)
Begin: SHOW FADES in to reveal office door, sign on door says NOCLEANSINGING.COM. Door opens to reveal small room with single fan spinning overhead. One corner appears charred black as if set on fire. Camera pans over to reveal a single table up against wall with four computers, a typewriter, a telegraph, and a cage with a pigeon sitting in it by the window. Camera turns to show another table with people sitting around it. Three long-haired guys, one headless guy, and one with short hair.
DGR: It’s nice to have a bit of downtime between releases, we’ve basically run through everything that’s come out within the past couple of months.
Andy: Oi; don’t you think I’m worth more thought than a cheap British accent for this gag?
Islander: *nervously* Actually, we still have a couple sitting in the backlog after all. Apparently no one has done The Ocean yet.
DGR: Seriously? No one? That album had a lot of heat behind it, they were the critical darlings for a little bit there. Islander?
Islander: Don’t look at me, I’m busy with work….and trips for work…and stuff.
Andy: Busy, playing a bunch of shows. Also that album came out, like a month ago.
Israel: Don’t ask me, working on ways to write a review for the Amon Amarth album.
Cut to blackboard with “It is an Amon Amarth album” scrawled over and over on it.
DGR: Wait, didn’t Badwolf call dibs on both The Ocean and Dillinger? What happened there?”
Cut to bag of flour with nametag stapled to it. Name tag reads “Badwolf”.
DGR: He sure has been quiet lately. I’ve had a shitty case of writer’s block lately. I haven’t even made a serious pass through the disc yet other than thinking it’s a pretty good disc. Can’t we give this to the review monkey?
Islander: Review monkey’s busy. Looks like it’s up to you.
Shot narrows in onto DGR’s eyes as they squint:
Fade to black
(photo by David Robinson)
It’s been a month and some time since Pelagial saw release to the wider public, and we are now getting around to it. I know, we’re super-late on the ball, but sometimes background communication fuck-up’s (carrier pigeons and smoke signals only work so well when the two closest to each other live twelve hours apart) can actually have their advantages too. Because of the fact that I’m just now rousing this lazy, rusted shell of a body into writing form, and having had the CD since release, I’m able to do one thing that not many other discs really allow us to do, despite receiving promo copies and previews before release, and that is actually decompressing. The month-long span of listening to Pelagial over and over again has allowed me to really wrap my head around it and come out with something resembling a review and discussion – because while Andy is the fucking master of the haiku and nailed it with his brief bit on Pelagial, this is an album worthy of discussion.
It may seem like we’re burying the lead, since everyone who wants to hear it potentially has heard it by now. But we rarely talk about a disc unless we enjoy it or it provides something worth talking about, and The Ocean fills both categories easily. They’ve always been critical darlings in the music world with every release and complicated concept albums – the shift in sound with Heliocentric and Anthropocentric managed to enrapture a lot of new people, myself included. Since the 2010 release of those two discs, The Ocean’s lineup has actually pulled off the feat of remaining relatively similar this time, and although they may be less of a collective now and more of a cohesive band, the music they make remains as dense and challenging as ever. They may not be dealing with concrete themes of history and literature this time, but the concepts presented here are just as ethereal and philosophical as before. The principal difference is that they’ve managed to condense what most people think of when it comes to The Ocean into just one eleven-song album.
The story of how Pelagial came to be is interesting, in that the seeds of it were planted as an instrumental album. Loic Rosetti – the group’s current vocalist and voice of the band for the Helio and Anthro discs — was having medical issues and had to bow out of the band. As a result, the album was being written as a wholly instrumental release before he was able to rejoin the band and craft vocal lines for the music. You can hear chunks of Pelagial that sound as if they were written as instrumental tracks from the beginning, too, especially as Pelagial progresses and its lyrical aspects diminish.
The Ocean, however, are an incredibly skilled band, and the fact that they were missing a front man for some of the writing period for Pelagial barely shows otherwise. They know how to write a good, progressive song that can turn crushingly heavy within the span of a second. Since Pelagial feels like The Ocean concentrated, things get heavier more often, too – reflecting more clearly the aggression in their sound that some may have felt was missing from the previous two releases. For those who haven’t listened to anything earlier than the Helio/Anthro releases, Pelagial falls heavily on the Anthropocentric side of the spectrum. The more meditative moments on this album aren’t really saved for soft songs; they come in the form of respites during the slower, doom-flavored tracks that make up the back half of this disc. You could fling the term “front-loaded” at the album because all the heavier, more rockin’ songs come first, but I have suspicions that this may have been an intentional thematic choice.
The beginning triplet of songs in the “Bathypalegic” layer of Pelagial are good enough that they could stand on their own, separate from the rest of the album. Most folks will be especially familiar with parts II (“The Wish In Dreams”) and III (“Disequillibrated”), since they were among the first tracks released for the disc. “The Wish In Dreams” feels like it was written for people who fell in love with the song “She Was The Universe”. It’s similar in structure and contains a chorus that’s just as catchy. It moves at a fast clip before dropping into a stuttering, Tool-esque riff that buttresses all three of the “Bathypalegic” songs. At first, it’s a really good guitar part, but it quickly becomes a signal of transition into the next movement.
“Disequillibrated” includes what I think is the strongest groove on the whole album. The riff they build up to after the first verse has a Meshuggah quality that causes you to headbang instantly. It’s completely subconscious and not something that you choreograph rocking back and forth to, but goddamn, every time that thing hits you can’t help but get at least a nod going.The rest of this album is just as strong, but it was clearly written as something to be taken as a whole, with multiple callbacks to earlier songs; it just happens that those three are so good.
CUT TO: Shot of outside of office, door slightly ajar with smoke seeping out of it. Voice yells from inside: I THINK THE CORNER CAUGHT FIRE AGAIN
CUE: Monkey slipping out of the door and walking off.
Pelagial seems to be telling two different stories that coincide with each other, one dealing with a literal descent deep under the ocean (each track bearing the name of a specific section/layer) and the other digging into someones mind (as each track has a subtitle dealing with a specific thought process and theme). That’s how you wind up with track titles like the mouthful that is “Bathypalegic II: The Wish In Dreams”. What’s interesting about this trip is that as we move more deeply into both the literal ocean and the psychic one, the music becomes heavier and slower, yet lyrically it gets simpler. Songs like the very last track have, at most, a paragraph’s worth of lyrics. It begins to seem that as we descend deeper, the music becomes a conveyance that represents the outside pressures pushing in on our narrator.
It’s an interesting transition, because lyrically, Pelagial is top-notch. This album has some beautiful thoughts hidden within front man Loic Rosetti’s singing and screaming. The opening tracks are almost novel-length and wax poetic, then the later songs become simpler yet more hard-hitting in tone, as a means of message conveyance. “Abyssopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety” and the two “Hadopalegic” songs have some wonderful stuff within the music’s layers, especially “Signals of Anxiety”, which paints one hell of a picture. It’s an easily understood song, so posting the lyrics might be a little gauche, but the song is a stunning bit of music with something like twelve lines worth of words that say a ton.
Maybe, The Ocean are saying something about how the usage of a lot of words is a shallow act – as the wordiest songs on Pelagial lie in the shallower layers of the disc? It’s one of many subtle elements that work on Pelagial. I worry, though, that I may be reading too much into that specific example, as the most obvious of all the songs slowing down and getting some heavy doom overtones has been mentioned before. It may be a happy accident. Of course, I think about this as I’m in the midst of penning a pretty lengthy review.
Pelagial is a dense album, too. It’s the kind of disc that seems to constantly provide new experiences long after release. Even a month out, I’m still finding aspects of the music that I find interesting, or my new favorite small bits of each song, since The Ocean have taken what would usually be spread across two discs and jammed it all into one — the repeated motifs, callbacks to earlier songs, lyrics that themselves tie back into philosophies and themes from earlier songs. It’s a disc that fully plays into its own concept and executes it fully. The band fully threw themselves into this one and it shows; both instrumentally and otherwise, each song feels meticulously crafted.
It’s hard to know if the band had anything left in them after the expulsion of Pelagial, although they just might continue their double-album pattern of contrasting themes, and who knows, maybe next year we’ll see a disc dealing with going higher into the sky. One of the exciting things about The Ocean is that each album has been different enough that you can’t really chart where they’re going to head next; you just have what they’ve left you with right now, and what they leave is always good. Pelagial is one of the strongest albums The Ocean have put out yet, especially for those who loved Heliocentric and Anthropocentric. The raw aggression and sludge aspect from earlier albums also returns, so it feels like the band have succeeded in combining all of their elements into one high mark on Pelagial.
FADE BACK TO OFFICE:
DGR: There! Now we’re caught up with everything! Now I can say that it’s nice to finally have put out reviews for all of that stuff that hit last month!
From off camera – Islander: Hey, has anyone taken care of that Bodom disc?
Overheard shot shows every seat at table empty, with the exception of DGR, as one chair wobbles and falls over.
Screen narrows to DGR’s eyes
FADE TO BLACK