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The Ocean

Pelagial

Format: CD   Release Date: 04/30/2013
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Since 2007's Precambrian, the Ocean has become increasingly conceptual. Two separate offerings from 2010, Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, had longtime fans in a quandary as to whether the band were visionaries or merely pretentious. Over two years in the making, Pelagial was originally envisaged by guitarist, lyricist, and band mastermind Robin Staps as a single piece of instrumental music that charted the seven levels of the sea -- Epipelagic, Mesopelagic, Bathypelagic, Abyssopelagic, Hadopelagic, Demersal, and Benthic -- by portraying their depths musically, from the surface where light enters (Epipelagic) to the murky, enclosed-in-darkness ocean floor (Benthic) where bottom feeders live. Staps was also influenced deeply by Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece Stalker, a work that charts the journey of three men through a bleak (presumably post-apocalyptic) landscape to a room where all desires can be fulfilled. Along the way, each individual must completely confront his innermost self and have it exposed, making plain the realization of our basest desires can have dangerous consequences. The extended metaphor here equating the levels of human consciousness with those of the most primordial element in the natural world is heady stuff for a rock record. The Ocean pull it off simply because they present it: they never ram these philosophical concepts down the listener's throat. In this 53-minute work of 11 continuous sections, the band careens through airy, melodic rock to knotty, dense prog metal to suffocatingly bleak post-rock with cohesive neo-classical interludes of chamber strings and acoustic piano. This is made possible by rigorous compositional acumen, communicative, expert, performance precision, articulate, painstaking production (Jens Bogren and Staps), and a beautifully balanced vocal delivery from frontman Loïc Rossetti. Despite the many criticisms he has endured since 2010, he is the perfect frontman here as he articulates the concepts and anchors a rumbling, physically turbulent, labyrinthine musical journey. His distorted vocals still allow for the lyrics to be understood and his clean vocals are not overly passionate but are quite expressive. He is both documentarian and active emotional participant. The music moves through the numerous chapters in the Ocean's previous history even as it embraces a new present and points toward a complex future. For those who prefer to undertake this musical sojourn without the intrusion of the human voice, a completely instrumental disc offering Staps' original version is included in the package as well, adding weight, heft, and an even greater multi-dimensional quality to this magnificent, wonderfully heavy, artful project. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

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