Ambient progressive metal: now there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day. It’s almost an oxymoron when you think about it. How on earth can metal be ambient? Surely the whole point of metal is to be a stimulant, not a relaxant; to make you feel animated and awake; not mellow and relaxed. Clearly then, Oceans of Night has decided to plough something of an unusual, possibly contradictory furrow.
Featuring multi-instrumentalist and human creative tour de force Scott Mosher, singer Scott Oliva and drummer Allan Smithee and engineered by Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Armored Saint and Engine), the band quickly provides an answer to the question ‘What is ambient progressive metal?’ In reality, it is what it says it is: interesting arrangements, big guitars and soaring vocals combined with atmospheric, almost cinematic passages making heavy use of keyboards and sound effects. It’s a combination that Oceans of Night pulls off rather well, delivering complex songs that utilise this mix of genres effectively and, on the whole, seamlessly.
The band’s sound is at times reminiscent of Queensryche – most obviously the vocals – and there’s also a hint of Magnum in there too. The album’s title song, “Domain”, uses keyboards quite heavily and the guitar solo is a little Clarkin-like. It’s a lengthy piece with plenty going on and much to hold your interest, including the ambient mid-section (less The Orb or FSOL, more like the incidental music in a movie); Oceans of Night clearly know a thing or two about song construction and composition. The sound features quite a bit of reverb, which lends a slightly exotic quality, but which also sounds a little bit dated and tends to detract from the overall sonic experience.
At various points on the album that term ‘cinematic’ comes to mind again; “Dreams In Artificial Sunlight” would be the perfect accompaniment to a 1980s science fiction film. In fact, one could see Mosher turning his hand to film scores at some point in the future, it’s that striking.
After the opening song the quality of material is a bit variable: “The View To You” is a rocker underpinned by a chugging guitar riff and all the better for it. “Instruments Of Fear” is a solid, heavy song that would not be out of place somewhere in the Dream Theater back catalogue. “Divisions Of Time” sees the keyboards driving the song and has a chorus which vaguely echoes Pachelbel’s “Canon”.
Less successful are songs like “Don’t Look To Me” and “So Near Yet So Far”, both of which rely on vocal melodies that need to be stronger. The problem with this genre is that the music must be pretty much perfect: bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X have set an almost impossibly high bar, demanding a level of accomplishment that is nigh on unreachable. Oceans of Night fall short of the bar at several points on this album, which is a shame because the ambition and hard work are clearly there.
While the title track is chock full of ideas and a direction of travel that leads to a definite conclusion, some of the other songs – for example the aforementioned “Dreams In Artificial Sunlight” – never quite seem to get going; they are almost like the introductions to much longer songs that have ended up as stand-alone pieces. The same is true of “The Future Remembered” which, when it ends, leaves the listener expecting more: a tempo change or chorus.
“Domain”, then, is something of a variable album: the cinematic, ambient-influenced sections and ambitious songs like the title track are let down by some of the more ordinary moments, which ultimately lack that vital spark. As it is, “Domain” is a reasonable album with some high points that hint at what, given time, might be possible.