02. Mesopelagic: The Uncanny
03. Bathyalpelagic I: Impasses
04. Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams
05. Bathyalpelagic III: Disequillibrated
06. Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts
07. Abyssopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety
08. Hadopelagic I: Omen of the Deep
09. Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe
10. Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance
11. Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes
[Metal Blade Records]
It was only a matter of time before European art metallers The Ocean delved into their eponymous muse as a source of conceptual inspiration. Sole founding member and guitarist Robin Staps’ fascination with the ocean doesn’t end as a mere namesake; Staps is a scuba enthusiast and has actively studied ocean life when not busy with music, even further bridging his two hobbies in spirit with his label Pelagic Records, with Pelagic meaning, “relating to, or living in open oceans or seas.” Staps’ interest and experience in this area has truly paid off and is artistically realized with Pelagial, a concept record that not only explores the depths of the last unexplored terrestrial frontier, but also acts as a journey to the source of our hopes and dreams.
Pelagial, depending on where you place your emphasis when listening, offers two vastly different experiences. On an instrumental front, the band tackles the thematic task of providing a soundtrack for the ocean’s different pelagic zones and appropriately capturing the essence of each level as the band sinks deeper. Opening in the bright and sunlit surface, ‘Epipelagic‘ serves as a spiritual overture for Pelagic with twinkling pianos and flowing waters painting a beautiful and lively soundscape. With each passing track however, the group carries the music further into darker waters, eventually trading accessible song structure and ballad-worthy melodies with moody atmospheres and sludgy doom riffing in labyrinthine progression. The difference between uptempo ‘Mesopelagic‘ and the brutal dirge of ‘Benthic‘ is almost night and day, where light is slowly drained from the locales that the music attempts to and succeeds at depicting.
Since Pelagial was intended as an instrumental epic, the record is rich in detail and hold up on their own to repeated listening. However, even though it was a technical afterthought, the vocal performance from Loic Rossetti is phenomenal considering the near vocal paralysis that the last two years of heavy touring have inflicted upon him. From the heartfelt crooning in ‘Bathyalpelagic I: Impasses‘ to the gravelly roars ‘Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes,’ Rossetti further plants himself as one of the most talented studio vocalists in metal. His important role as a frontman is made double for Pelagial as his presence adds much more depth to the record that would have been lost had he sat this album cycle out. It’s hard to imagine Pelagial without the ironically comforting warmth of Rossetti’s voice as he sings, “…and it’s getting colder. There’s no comfort in this place…” in ‘Mesopelagic: The Uncanny.’
With this in mind, Pelagial‘s conceptual exploration doesn’t end with the ocean floor. Pelagial is a dichotomous experience that also draws from the Russian classic film Stalker for lyrical inspiration. Given the film’s psychological implications regarding the conscious and unconscious mind and how it relates to our innermost desires, the band has provided a brilliant and relatable parallel that conveys this voyage into the unknown and oppressive territory. Jungian psychology is often explained as an iceberg, with the conscious mind being the visible tip that we are aware of and the unconscious mind extending below the water’s surface in a larger hidden mass, making the metaphor quite apt on several levels.
Pelagial is quite possibly The Ocean’s most ambitious record to date — not only conceptually, but musically as well. While not as accessible on a song-to-song level as the previous Centric records, Pelagial is a cohesive masterpiece that makes the case for the art of storytelling through music in and of itself in the genre of metal. The Ocean have been on the cutting edge of progressive songwriting since their inception, but Pelagial may be the record that finally puts them ahead of their peers.
The Ocean – Pelagial gets…