The Ocean - Heliocentric
Metal Blade
Progressive Metal
10 songs (50:58)
Release year: 2010
The Ocean, Metal Blade
Reviewed by Charles
Surprise of the month
Up to hearing Helicentric, my only experience of The Ocean was live, when I saw them open for the prog-metal dream ticket of Cynic and Opeth. I remember being miffed that this band got longer on stage than the former, and so perhaps had them unfairly written off. As such, I’m picking thus record up right in the middle of their train of thought- it seems to follow on concept-wise from 2007’s Precambrian, and in fact apparently also forms a prelude to a second work due in October of this year. Which perhaps explains why I found this album simultaneously revelatory and puzzling.

As you’d hope from a concept album dealing with the development of astronomical thought, this is a remarkably ambitious collection. Perhaps in part explaining my surprise is the fact that this features a new singer (Loïc Rossetti) who- unusually for a metal band- seems to form the very centrepiece of the group’s sound. Far from the familiar sludge-bellow that I recall (maybe unfairly) from the live proposition, the vocals are largely clean, almost like a soul or jazz singer at times. The instrumental elements bend to match this. On Firmament, Rossetti’s delivery is hushed and snarling, which fits perfectly alongside the jolting but irresistible Tool-like riffing making for a real alt. metal swagger. Even once a raging climax has been reached, the vocals ring through with a rousing- not chorus, exactly- maybe “refrain” is the right word. This focus is at its most surprising on Ptolemy Was Wrong- for much of its length reminding me almost of someone like a Jamie Cullum or Harry Conick Jr. ballad. It's based upon a duet of piano and heartfelt crooning, subverted by the sludgy bass clunking that lumbers in later.

So, the album is splendidly enigmatic and unafraid to do things its audience might scoff at. A couple of more esoteric references repeatedly resurfaced whilst I was playing this. The first was US alt.-sludge weirdos Giant Squid. The Ocean’s ambitious instrumentation- especially the repeated use of strings and even brass and woodwind- which give the quiter arrangements here a really distinctive flavour and authentic edge. By contrast in the riffier passages- such as the closing couplet of Origin of Species and Origin of God, the tight, quirky and often catchy rhythm section is very comparable to inventive French prog-metallers Hacride.

This is a brave and endlessly intriguing progressive metal record that hardly resembles the gnarly sludge that I’d previously (unfairly) associated with the band. The best thing is that the elements that at first seem utterly incongruous- the aforementioned balladeering, in particular- end up striking you as merely one element of a freewheeling and varied whole. Well worth a listen for the open-minded.

Killing Songs :
Firmament, First Commandment of the Luminaries, Origin of Species
Charles quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by The Ocean that we have reviewed:
The Ocean - Pelagial reviewed by Jared and quoted 80 / 100
The Ocean - Anthropocentric reviewed by Jaime and quoted 90 / 100
The Ocean - Aeolian reviewed by Daniel and quoted 78 / 100
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