The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

German/Swiss/Swedish ensemble The Ocean (Collective) is back with the sequel to the renowned Phanerozoic (2018) album, part two of a paleontology concept work.

Robin Staps is the driving force in The Ocean ensemble/collective. As the principal guitarist and composer, Staps orders the ideas and molds them into the expression we hear. Of course, Staps did have an outline with for this long concept: the most recent 541 million years of the geologic history of the earth. It might seem like a big story, and it is, but The Ocean got their arms around it.

The album is broken into two parts, “Mesozoic,” which is covered in the first two tracks, and “Cenozoic,” the last six tracks. There is an extraordinarily detailed description available about the meaning of each passage, so you can check that out by doing a quick web search. In the context of this short review I will concentrate on what the music sounds like.

The first part is two long songs, together running about twenty two minutes. They begin with a solo, echoing acoustic guitar and ethereal synth passages. Very quickly the music turns upbeat, adding instruments and active assertions. At times like this, the music has a Tangerine Dream feel to it – that might be a good baseline to start thinking about this music. A melodic voice tells us part of the story, and for some time this is fairly quiet Prog Rock. Big guitar riffs crash in here and there, and coarse vocal instantiations now and then. There is a lot going on here and the musicians have 22 minutes to work with, so sit back and enjoy. As with much of the music in this lane, dramatic extremes are exhibited. The guitar leads are somewhat reminiscent of Camel on the Mirage album here and there, and that is very appealing. Excellent vision and execution.

The second part of the album is comprised of six shorter songs, each in the four minute range with the final two being a bit longer. This section seems more linear than the first, but that could be due to the deliberate segmenting of the musical passages into smaller bits. Indeed, the first song, “Palaeocene,” sounds almost like a radio cut, with fan-pleasing guitars and aggressive but digestible vocals, and the second track is almost a ballad. “Pleistocene” starts out humble but turns into an all-out Death Metal assault before it is over. The closer, “Holocene,” has a comfortable desert vibe to it and eases us out in a perfect cooldown. There is a lot to take in with the second part, too, so give yourself some headspace.

Look to Metal Blade Records for the CD and digital (through Bandcamp) and to Pelagic Records for the vinyl of Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic on September 25. The Bandcamp digital download has the complete album in an instrumental version included with it, which is an excellent alternate way to experience the music. If you are up for the challenge, Prog and Post-Metal live in this album. Recommended.

Links.

https://www.facebook.com/theoceancollective

https://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords/b/the-ocean

https://theocean.bandcamp.com/

The Ocean, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Barrens, Penumbra Review (Pelagic Records, 2020)

An instrumental treatise on the meaning of meaning, Penumbra is the debut release from Barrens. The music soars. Where it goes is something your mind decides when you listen.

Penumbra is the debut album from a recently formed band, but the members of Barrens have been around for a couple of decades, and they are seasoned professionals: Johan G. Winther (guitar, synthesizers), Markku Hildén (drums, percussion), and Kenneth Jansson (bass, synthesizers). Working out of Gothenburg (the Bandcamp profile reads Malmö), Sweden, the band creates unusual multi-layered compositions that typically have a sinister or dark feeling embedded in them to go along with the sound itself. That is my sensation, anyway – it is easy to see how different people might have divergent experiences to Penumbra. The music finds it center with the synthesizers in combination with the percussion and folds in the string instruments for depth and emphasis along a plentitude of paths.

The title of this album is perfect – the region between light and a cast shadow. It is an edge, a line, but it is not perfectly distinct and it is, presumably, penetrable. A poignant example is the song “Arc Eye” where there are three different musical layers in the first part of the song that do go together but could easily exists separately and on their own. In another dimension on the penumbra theme, just past two minutes in, there is a loud cascade of sound that crashes into the existing stable elements, blending with them, and then disappearing. Like an eclipse of the sun, you might say. That leading edge was a discreet event that came and went, yet in this music it also had a lasting impact – the song changed from there on. Throughout the nine songs there are many different attitudes, sentiments, and emotions churning on their own while also culminating in an identifiable whole. With no vocals to affect your experience, you can more easily join the environment the musicians create and take a distant wander in your mind.

Penumbra is out now on Pelagic Records, and streaming and downloadable in the usual many places. Try listening to the entire album in the dark and see where it takes you. Recommended.

Links.

http://www.facebook.com/BARRENStheband

https://barrenstheband.bandcamp.com/releases

http://www.facebook.com/pelagicrecords

Barrens, Penumbra Review (Pelagic Records, 2020)