To this point, every bit of media I’ve seen on this album has been heaping praise on this album; so, I figured I’d at least listen to it and give my thoughts. First, The Ocean is a “post”-metal group from Germany, whose music in the past has always bordered on Tool, Isis, Cult of Luna (though not nearly as electronic), &c territory. If anything, they have a touch more sludge than any of those bands. Another defining point of interest is their lyrical concepts and music. They came to my attention with the “Anthropocentric” album whereby they are using the metal soundscape, particularly a dark and dense one, to discuss topics from Dostoyevsky and others relating to the human conceptualization of religion and God.
In 2013, the Ocean returns with “Pelagial,” a noun meaning “relating to the sea or the ocean.” It was derived from the Greek where the word meant relating to the deep sea. Off the bat, you know you are getting a concept album here. In some of the band’s promotional materials, they noted that the album started as an instrumental with a solidly defined concept musical, using this extended metaphor, to take the listener farther and deeper beneath the waves; each song is named after a strata of oceanic layers which have been determined by the amount of life and the amount of light that can enter there. Back to the album, the music was mixed and produced by Jens Borgen, meaning that the overall sound quality is beautiful.
The Ocean do nothing to hide the concept of this album: it is an exploration through metaphor of the human psyche from a classic Jungian perspective. In fact, it is very nearly the same metaphor that Jung used. In his writings, Jung revealed the he believed the psyche was like an iceberg. According to the promotional media for the album, it was also influenced by the submarine genre of war films, most particularly Das Boot. The music begins very light, almost effervescent in quality, becoming more and more claustrophobic and turbulent as the album progresses. The roils of turbulence are few at first, but increase as one goes deeper into their psyche to find the object of their fears and desires. Lyrically, the concepts are well written and wonderfully played. The instrumental work is gorgeous and the vocals play very, very well with the rest of the music, ranging from bluesy rock stylings to anguished screams.
Ultimately, this album should be the one for the Ocean to really snag listeners and taking them on this wonderful ride to the bottom of one’s mind. However, unlike Blabbermouth, who stated this album to be an emotional leviathan, I wholeheartedly disagree: it’s an intellectual leviathan. I never felt my emotions get swirled up into this vortex, but I did find myself thinking a lot about what the album was saying lyrically and evoking musically. This was a demanding trip through the mind. Further, the album represented nothing really that the band had done previously. Yes, there were sludge filled moments of dense atmospheres and claustrophobic passages; however, they were much closer to a traditional melodic death metal sound with the majority of the piece instrumentally. I found this, like nearly everyone else that reviewed this album, to be a logical step for the band’s musical progression. Yet, at the same time, why does the Ocean get a pass here? Other bands who are branching out into new sounds to explore different emotions or thoughts are often lambasted by the metal community, why not the Ocean as well? They diverged from their sound, successfully I might add, much in the same as Opeth and even Dark Tranquility yet both these bands are reviled for doing so. Even Agalloch saw criticism for cleaning up their production for Marrow of the Spirit (which was an amazing album in 2011). To me, this is the only Ocean album I’ve enjoyed from start to finish.
Even so, why do I still yet have reservations in my mind over this album? I’ve written now nearly 700 words on the piece and I do not feel like I’ve resolved this work completely. Therefore, I must add this: I find this concept to be wholly trite. Look, if this was the Ocean’s first album or if this is their first album of a new sort of musical journey, I would be willing to give a band, calling themselves the Ocean, writing an album called Pelagial a pass. Being that this is their sixth album and the concepts behind their second through fifth albums were so heady and well considered, this just seems far too easy artistically for them. Yes, the music was perfect for it and yes the lyrics were too, but ultimately, I feel like this was just too damned easy for them. This does not mean the album was bad; the opposite is very much true. It is a wondrously expansive and thoughtful piece deserving many listens to fully digest musically. But, lyrically and conceptually, it’s over the first time you listen through the lyrical pieces. I find myself listening to the instrumental more. Overall, I recommend the instrumental version of the album more than the lyrical version, because it’s open to more interpretation.