The Ocean - Holocene review
|Release date:||May 2023|
03. Sea Of Reeds
06. Unconformities [feat. Karin Park]
The Ocean may have just accomplished one of the greatest feats of foreshadowing in music; after releasing an album that finished on a surprisingly soft song called “Holocene”, they followed it up with a surprisingly soft album called Holocene.
Perhaps this shift shouldn’t be too surprising in hindsight, however; in reaching the end of the earth’s life cycle to date, The Ocean have progressed from eras of tectonic movement and dinosaurs and into modern history, so a reduction in heaviness and increased use of electronics makes some thematic sense. According to the band, though, the basis for the group’s evolution on Holocene has more to do with the increasing involvement in the writing process of keyboardist Peter Voigtmann, who joined the collective in 2018; not only were the songs here each built off of initial synth concepts, but the synths were so fundamental that Voigtmann has released a companion record, Limbus, under his SHRVL alter-ego that is based on the preliminary writing for Holocene.
What The Ocean have done here is bold, and will cause division among their fans; it’s curious that the last time I saw the band was in 2019, when they were supporting Leprous on the latter’s Pitfalls tour, as Holocene feels like it could be the prelude to a similar musical trajectory to that of Leprous in recent years. Nevertheless, it’s also entirely possible that this will be a one-off, considering that Holocene represents the conclusion of a particular quadrilogy of records within the band’s discography, so it makes far more sense to evaluate Holocene as the album it is, rather than speculate on the albums it may be followed by. The album it is, despite the starkness of its differences to the two Phanerozoic records, feels right at home in The Ocean’s catalogue.
A major reason for that is, despite the clearly reduced focus on it as a style, Holocene still has a major metallic component. It doesn’t necessarily seem that way at first, however; “Preboreal” starts off purely synth- and drum-driven, and even by its end, it’s only flirting with the heavier end of post-rock, and it’s not until the end of “Boreal” that some real heavy distortion is first utilized. Even then, “Sea Of Reeds” represents an immediate reversion to synths and clean guitars, and it’s not until the closing minutes of the trip-hoppy “Atlantic” that The Ocean commit to some crunching riffs and harsher vocals.
While on the softer side, this opening half of the album is nevertheless compelling; I’ve mentioned before my admiration for Loïc Rossetti as a vocalist, and once again he is crucial in imbuing a sense of purpose and emotion into these more subdued soundscapes. Of the four songs, the two that really stand out to me are “Preboreal” and “Atlantic”. The former has such a delectably gradual build from initial electronic pulses to increasing driven rock, with drummer Paul Seidel consistently underpinning the instrumentation with engaging rhythms, while “Atlantic” has a killer lead guitar motif punctuating its subdued synthscapes before the band finally commit to some serious metal riffing. If I were to have one complaint about the first half of Holocene, it is in how each song feels like a ‘reset’; “Preboreal” feels like the gradual intro to an album that is just about ready to go at the song’s end, only to fall back into quietness at the beginning of “Boreal”, and the same pattern is repeated across pretty much the entire rest of the record.
While this slightly frustrating disruption of flow persists throughout Holocene, its latter half does represent a shift in the metal contribution, starting off with the alt-metal vibes of “Subboreal” that eventually devolve into full-blooded aggression by its end, and later with the inclusion of some djent-style passages in the tenderly evocative “Parabiosis”. The real star of the show on Holocene, however, is “Unconformities”; while it’s a very different beast to the standout songs on the Phanerozoic records (“Permean: The Great Dying” and “Jurassic | Cretaceous”, in my opinion), it’s similarly pivotal to the success of the album.
Featuring Årabrot’s Karin Park as a guest vocalist (following up a cameo on Pelagic Records labelmate Crown's own recent venture into electronica, The End Of All Things), “Unconformities” is a true slow burn, Park taking center stage during the song’s tender yet brooding first half as her achingly evocative vocals work wonderfully with the lively drums and understated clean guitar soundscapes. All the build does eventually lead to pay-off, and it’s pay-off that takes the song into depths of extremity that the rest of the album daren’t sink to, The Ocean unleashing pounding, staccato bursts of aggression encompassing all instruments. I’m not sure if it’s going to be as timeless as the Phanerozoic songs I highlighted in the previous paragraph, but it’s clearly the standout song on Holocene.
I’ve already seen some divisive responses to this album, but it actually works rather nicely for me; the issues with its flow place it below the likes of Pelagial and Phanerozoic I in The Ocean’s discography, but I find it to be subtly engrossing, particularly as it builds to its denser second half. The drumming and vocals really do a lot to maintain my interest, and “Unconformities” comes at just the right moment to take the album to another level. I’d personally rather see a reversion to the sound of the previous output on future efforts rather than a continuation or furthering of this sonic shift, but as a one-off conclusion to their multi-album saga, I’m perfectly satisfied with Holocene.
||Written on 22.05.2023 by|
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