If you were expecting The Ocean to stick in their sludge roots and write another album along the same lines as Precambrian, then prepare to be disappointed. However, if you’re approaching this album with an open mind and you like experimentation and ambition, then prepare to be entertained.
Heliocentric is a completely different beast than it’s predecessors, feeling more like an art-rock album or a rock opera than a sludgy post-metal album. This is by no means a bad thing. Heliocentric immediately stands apart because of Loïc Rossetti’s singing, which is what most of this album is. Rossetti’s singing is actually great and complimentary to the music when they are included. The same goes for his screaming, as fans should already be familiar with by now from the Fluxion re-release. Heliocentric has “progressive concept album” written all over it, with climaxes left and right. Songwriter Robin Staps’ classical music influence on structure and dynamics are not neglected on this album, rather they are put to use in a different context. The album’s first track, “Shamayim” is just humming noise that swells up (much like the ocean?!) into the real leading track “Firmament,” a powerful song that sets a pace and feel for the rest of the album to come. The vocal melodies and harmonies are extremely catchy. I never thought I’d find myself singing along to a The Ocean record this happily, but it happened several times on Heliocentric. The song takes a slowed atmospheric section in the halfway point with tribal-sounding tom drum rolls. Suddenly, the song crescendos back into an intense variation on the song’s chorus.
“The First Commandment Of The Luminaries” is slower. The chorus is slightly catchier as well. Guitars are practically absent during the verses, where real orchestrated string instruments as we’ve come to expect from The Ocean give an important musical texture. An upbeat and jazzy piano solo in the second half breathes more life into the song.
The third song, “Ptolemy Was Wrong,” is probably the most controversial on the record, being a ballad comprised of mostly singing and piano. The lyrics may seem very silly when sang with such an emotive and struggled feeling.
“There’s no ambiguity: If Venus shows all phases like the moon, the earth must revolve around the sun. But no one will believe me. It’s like nothing I’ve seen was for real.”
Lyrics aside, this song is very beautiful and powerful, musically. Anyone who says otherwise is just as wrong as Ptolemy was, if opinions could be wrong.* I can see why this is Staps’ favorite song on the album. The lyrics make sense with the emotion of the song when you think about the struggle within once something you’ve known to be true your whole life was wrong all along. Still, the whole idea could have been executed better. That doesn’t make this a bad song, however.
“Metaphysics of a Hangman” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Rossetti’s vocals really shine on this track, using a falsetto for brief moments in the verses. The chorus vocals kind of sound like Chris Cornell at times, to be honest, though. But the melody is too good for me to write them off. The bridge of the song features an instrumental section with a guitar solo of sorts with delayed tremolo picked notes. The clean section is comprised by distant vocals and twirling guitar lines. “Catharsis of a Heretic” is a fairly short song, clocking in at a little over two minutes and is a song that lies in the middle of this album’s hard/soft styles. If you aren’t paying attention, this song is over before you knew it came on.
“Swallowed By The Earth” is another song with super catchy vocal hooks and melodies and has a very memorable guitar riff, due in part by it’s simplicity. This song probably holds one of the more post-metal moments on the album, and I’m sure this is a song that The Ocean fans will like more out of most of the other tracks, with the exception of the two closing tracks, but more on that later.
Another ballad is thrown into the mix with “Epiphany.” Just as with “Ptolemy Was Wrong”, this song features mostly vocals and piano, but delicately played guitar and hits from a string section emphasize building actions. Robin Staps knows how to write a good ballad, whether fans of The Ocean want them or not. Again, beautiful song.
Heliocentric has a duo of closing tracks, “The Origin of Species” and “The Origin of God”, which flow as one piece of music. The two tracks even share similar chord progressions and melodies that tie them together. Established fans of The Ocean will love these two tracks, as they are the heaviest and most progressive on the album. A chorus approaching on epic and a powerful instrumental section featuring strings and piano lead into the most intense metal section of the album on “The Origin of Species.” The song ends with a variation on the chorus and “The Origin of God” begins. As you could imagine, this song ends the Heliocentric journey be questioning God’s existence and where He came from:
“Who made your architect? Where does he come from? What is he made of?”
After the song’s chorus, a saxophone solo sweeps over a string and horn section before bringing the album to a close.
Heliocentric was an experiment for The Ocean. To me, the album was a real journey. Sure, some fans will absolutely hate this album for what it is. While it does contain elements of Precambrian (especially the 2nd disc), it strays from the path and opens up horizons for The Ocean into art rock. Heliocentric proves to be more straightforward, stripped down, and organic, and to me, it’s working out well. Okay, so it isn’t all bunnies and rainbows, as some of the lyrics are in need of work and some of the vocal melodies don’t go in the direction the listener seems to want, but Heliocentric is on of the more outstanding releases of 2010 thus far.
The Ocean – Heliocentric gets