The Ocean Collective Explore Every Imaginable Zone With Pelagial

  • Dave Mustein

Adaptation has become a necessity for metal artists. Due to The Ocean’s constantly changing lineup, that burden has historically rested on the shoulders of the band’s only remaining founding member, Robin Staps. Until now. The band has retained the core lineup – Staps, Hess, Nido, Rossetti, and, until recentlyLouis Jucker – for the past three albums, and they’ve reached the point where they’re adapting as a band rather than as individuals. Pelagial is The Ocean’s most cohesive work to date, from its songwriting to the tight-knit themes wrapped into the 53-minute endeavor.

The music of Pelagial is meant to articulate the journey from the surface of the ocean to its furthest depths, while the album’s lyrics are based off the 1979 film Stalker. The musical execution is obsidian-slick – recursive riffs and burgeoning instrumentation drive a gradual but definite trajectory to the bottom. The lyrics are an excellent analog to the music: anyone who’s seen Tarkovsky’s film can immediately draw connections between the aural flow of the album and the characters’ drawn-out, uncertain journey towards the Room where wishes are said to come true.

The realization of Pelagial’s theme is enabled by the tightness of the band’s composition. The timbres are thoroughly matched, and the album feels like it can be closely replicated in a live setting. Classical instrumentation appears but doesn’t dominate with the same orchestral ferocity it did on Precambrian. And Pelagial maintains that enveloping vitality only The Ocean can evoke; the feeling that every part of the music is alive and fluctuating down to the last flickering keystroke.

It takes us little time to realize that this is one of The Ocean’s most complex releases. Luc Hess’s drum contributions are precise and stimulating, especially on the earlier “Bathyalpelagic” tracks. Those tracks contain some of the most interesting rhythms ever written by The Ocean, from the juddering blurs of “The Wish In Dreams” to the broken 4/4 grooves of “Into the Uncanny.” Guitarists Staps & Jonathan Nido have further developed, and passages with their vibrant leads churn with energy. The bassists too make iron impressions, accenting the mellower sections with viscous funk. Furthermore the album doesn’t forsake the sledgehammer drive of Fluxion and Aeolian: the early “Bathyalpelagic” tracks are ripe for headbanging, especially “Disequillibrated,” which thrashes around with the heft of a harpooned whale.

Pelagial is emotive, but the weepiness that began to muddle Heliocentric and Anthropocentric is kept in check by the growth of vocalist Loic Rossetti. He doesn’t dominate the mix the way he did on the -centric albums, and his voice is used more sparingly. Loic’s range, too, has adapted: his growls best the earth-shaking ones of former Ocean vocalist Mike Pilat, while his cleans have acquired a staggering degree of flexibility that shapes itself to best fit the context. The power chord-rich choruses of ”Let Them Believe” are some of the most powerful moments on the entire record – Loic’s expansive dynamism melds with claustrophobic synths in a triumph burst of flair.

Ultimately, Pelagial resonates so deeply because its sonic continuity is matched with shifting, unified composition. The album viscerally depicts the spectrum of submersion while highlighting the musicians’ versatility and cohesion. The band has never written more intriguing music, and The Ocean Collective has never been a more apt name.

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