*prognotes breaks down and analyses your favourite metal and progressive concept albums lyrically and musically. Read other entries in this series here.
Another *prognotes already, you ask. Well yes, aren’t you all a lucky bunch because following on from Eden’s excellent analysis of Caligula’s Horse’s 2013 opus last week, we’re back today with a look at another incredible album from the very same year. The Ocean’s Pelagial is one of the finest metal albums of the decade, an intriguing concept album that covers a journey from the surface down to the murky depths of the deep blue sea. Before getting into the meat of the matter, let’s start with some background.
The record was written as a single piece of music and was initially intended to be an instrumental release due to injuries sustained to vocalist Loïc Rosetti’s voice. However, Loïc recovered and recorded vocals for most tracks, leading to two versions of the album, an instrumental offering and one with vocals. It is the latter we’re looking at today, with the lyrics drawing heavily from the classic 1979 Russian film, Stalker. This film involves a mystical Room which supposedly fulfils the greatest desire of anybody who enters within it; however, you cannot choose which desire the Room fulfils. Instead the Room will fulfil the wish which your subconscious wants the most, even if your rational side would not want it to happen. The Room is located in the middle of a dangerous area called ‘The Zone’, an area where nobody lives, but strange things happen and most that enter do not leave alive. The main protagonist, known only as Stalker, makes a living illegally guiding people through the Zone to this mysterious Room. The film thus centres around one such journey where he is guiding two others. This information is relevant to the album’s concept, though we will try to keep our interpretation as general as possible, rather than following the film too closely. Finally, it is worth noting that bodies of standing water are divided, based on their depth, into various sections known as pelagic zones, and this is where the album title and track names come from. Now with that out of the way, let’s get into it.
The album kicks off with “Epipelagic”, the first pelagic depth zone covering the first 200 metres of depth. It is known as the Sunlight Zone because there is enough light to allow plants to conduct photosynthesis, and so the vast majority of marine flora and fauna live in this zone. This short instrumental opener perfectly captures such vibrancy, with the combination of serene strings, mellow piano and subtle bubbling/watery samples giving this zone an air of peaceful calm and harmony.
The track perfectly segues through to the second depth zone, known as the Mesopelagic or Twilight Zone. This area covers depths ranging from 200m-1000m and the song carries on the soothing melodies of the previous song. Clean guitars join in, the addition of a slightly heavier instrument marking our transition down into deeper territories. The first verse has some tattering percussion in the background, evoking the sense of crabs scuttling along the sea floor, highlighting that in the first parts of this zone there is still marine life to be found. The lyrics in this verse then lay bare the first layer behind the record’s concept, foreshadowing what’s to come as light becomes scarce and temperatures drop as we continue our descent:
“The light is fading.
Everything dissolves in blue
As we become one with what surrounds.
Crawl back into the womb
But it’s getting colder
From this point on there’s only one direction: down.”
The second verse then reveals the second layer of the concept, namely that it’s also a metaphorical journey into the depths of the human psyche, a journey just as perilous as the literal one into the abyssal depths of the ocean:
“Sinking towards the unknown inside of ourselves.
Towards me and towards you,
Towards the essence, towards truth.”
The above alluded to the essential discourse arising from Stalker: that of desires. As the lyrics themselves make clear “There is not always a reason / But Everything can be traced back to a cause, / So much is sure.” Where do desires come from? Are they conscious and rational, are they subconscious and instinctual, or both? Can subconscious desires ever be truly altered? These and more become especially pertinent questions because the Room will choose the desire which is strongest within someone, whether it is conscious or not, and whether they actually want it fulfilled or not.
The speaker reveals that “It’s getting dark now”, photosynthesis no longer possible as there is a drastic reduction in marine life, the lyrics beginning to interweave both layers of the concept we’ve thus far encountered. There is no more percussive rattling to be found here, no more crabs scuttling about. Our protagonists have begun to plumb the depths of their subconsciouses, searching for the origin of their desires:
“I’m ready to dig it all up
But so far there’s not much
I recognize in your dissection of me.”
The second half of the track is much heavier than the first half, symbolising the rising pressure levels, oxygen no longer present once you’ve crossed the halfway mark of the Mesopelagic zone. The epic chorus which concludes the track then finally exposits the third layer of the concept, the more literal interpretation of the film.
“When we’re coming close to this familiar place
That has not lost its appeal.
Fears we need to face:
To break out of these cycles
We must rebuild this all from scratch.
Start all over again.”
Thus the Stalker’s thoughts turn towards reaching the Room yet again, knowing that they will need to brave their fears to reach it. But it is not just fear of the journey, or fear of oceanic depths. It is the fear of their true essence, fear of what has been repressed and what their desires may truly be.
The third track brings us into the 1000-4000m depth zone, the Bathyalpelagic or midnight zone, so called because at this point there is no light left whatsoever. It comes as no surprise then that the track opens up with the heaviest riff to date, a doom inspired monster whose ilk will become more and more common as the album progresses. However, we still haven’t sunk to the absolute depths of the ocean, and so there is still some beauty to be found in the form of a twinkling piano and clean vocals. The lyrics on this track are the most introspective to date:
“Try to make sense out of what we’ve been through.
And I still justify the things I used to do.
I don’t believe in nothing – but I believe in you.
Take my word and move on.
I’ve chosen to embrace all the things that I cannot change”
Thus the speaker is reflecting on some injustices they have enacted against their companion; however, they appear to have come to terms with what they have done and who they really are. They then urge their companion to do the same, emphasised by the fact that “move on” are the only words above said with harsh vocals. However, their companion is unable to do so, instead trapped within the dark confines of their own mind, dwelling on the past and allowing it to consume them:
“You’re digging in the past: a deep hole that will wolf you down.”
Musically the track is structurally similar to “Mesopelagic: The Uncanny”: both grow in intensity, both have beautifully mellow as well as heavy moments and both utilise a combination of clean and harsh vocals. Yet, our progression towards the deep is nonetheless clear when taking a close look at the subtle differences. The ratio of heavy vs mellow has swung in the former’s direction. Where clean guitars once supported clean vocals, now they’re distorted guitars. Where the drumming was once dextrous and nimble on snare and cymbals, now we have an increased movement towards low rumbling toms and crashing cymbals. Finally, where there was once the layers of progressive elements now they are beginning to be stripped back, replaced by more simple and more repetitive riffs, representative of the simpler, less intelligent life forms which have been able to survive in the lower depths of the sea. The track ends with one of the central questions we’ve touched upon:
“How much control do we have over what we wish for?”
“Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams” then ties in each layer of the concept, as the speaker is “petrified” of what will happen when they finally reach the Room, whilst “Pressure is increasing” as the journey to the bottom of the ocean intensifies. More than anything though, this track hones in on the central themes of the previous track:
“I wanted to shape and change them
But it’s they who’ve changed me.
I wanted to get on top of them
But they wouldn’t let me.”
The speaker perhaps continues to reflect on how they mistreated their companions, trying to alter them only to be foiled and altered themselves. Perhaps this is what has caused the apparent grievance between them. More pressingly though, it can also be interpreted as their attempt to use rational thought to alter their (perhaps subconscious) desires, to ensure that when they reach the Room it will fulfil the desire they want it to fulfil. Yet this proves to be impossible, and this leaves us pondering whether we can even pinpoint what our subconscious desires are, let alone try and control them:
“They’re as elusive as air:
As soon as we name them they are gone.
Their meaning disappears.”
It ends in a similar fashion to its predecessor, the importance of that vital question becoming all the more pertinent as we progress:
“How much control do we have over what we wish for?
How much control do we have over what we wish for?
How many decisions we take are rational?
And how much is intentional?”
Whilst the lyrical content of the song was very similar to what came before it, musically it was less intense. The same cannot be said for “Bathypelagic III: Disequillibrated”, the heaviest track to date by some margin. The music is dark and foreboding, expanding upon the brooding elements which were still formative in “Bathypelagic I”. The doom influences are front and centre, whilst the stock riff has a strong hardcore vibe to it as the band draw upon their more extreme influences to deliver a brutal experience. The song exclusively utilises harsh vocals and the lyrics are just as dark as the instrumentation, the point of view shifting from the preceding songs.
“… You’ll see for yourselves
How far down into the black these rays can reach.”
We’re already in the midnight zone, so we already know it’s impossible for any natural light to penetrate this far down into the ocean. Thus we must be speaking metaphorically, looking at how far the light, our rational thoughts and desires, can reach into the black hole that is our subconscious desires. The fact that the Room will only grant your strongest desire, even if it’s hidden, is confirmed in the following verse:
“Coming true there is only what accords with your nature,
With your being – of which you know nothing.
But it’s there, inside of you
Controlling you ’til the day you die.”
But how did we know the perspective had shifted? Well, now it seems clear that we’re hearing the voice of a person who has been wronged, a person who is still consumed by what has been done to them. A person who thus far has been focusing on the darkness of the soul, a darkness representative of their state of mind, the swirling seas around them and the monstrous music to be found. A reckoning is coming, as we seek to regain our equilibrium, though we’re left in the dark as to what that all means:
“I don’t have any illusions
I’m not going to forgive you
What is this that you hope for
So you braced yourself once again.
Dread has made you come to your senses.
Well, you set everything in motion.
A disequilibrated stable state:
This is where it all began.
Now face the reaction.”
This speaker certainly seems hell bent on revenge, in which case one can begin to suspect what could happen if they reach the Room before anyone else. The following song then takes an atmospheric and thematic turn. But that will have to wait for tomorrow, as we sink into the deepest reaches that The Ocean have in store for us, with our second part of this *prognotes article!