In that strange, quixotic netherland that we often refer to as progressive metal, it’s been reassuring to have a band, nay collective, like The Ocean to steady our nerves, reassure us that all is well and generally be entirely reliable. The ascent of The Ocean up the heavy metal echelons continues apace with the release of their sixth album, the idiosyncratic and occasionally thrilling, “Pelagial.” Not one for making things easy for their fans, “Pelagial” is an extraordinarily condensed, almost impenetrable record on first listen but, with effort and patience on the part of the listener, it reveals itself as a beguiling release, brimming with musical invention, effervescence and unwavering belief in what is a very singular art.
Thematically this is a concept album but not of the hey nonny nonny, goblins and pixies variety. You didn’t really expect that though did you? No, you didn’t. This is a record at one level that is about the ocean and its depths, echoes and effluence. There is a clear Freudian element running through the record where the ocean clearly acts as a metaphor for the human condition, a condition that the band see as increasingly one of a claustrophobic and occasionally mendacious nature.
Musically, this has the band on very steady ground. They have eschewed some of the more expansive and arch elements that had eyebrows being raised on their last two records. At a critical level, this is steady as she goes but frankly, that’s entirely fine by me. I like the meticulous construct of tracks like ‘Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny’ which sets an appropriately atmospheric entry to the album, progressive metal guns ablazing, where the quiet, unassuming verses appropriately surrounded with the crashing aural waves of the bridge and chorus set us up for the immersive experience to come. Likewise, ‘Bathyapelagic: Impasses’ takes us deeper into the brine, deeper into the band’s anxieties but they make their anxiety and angst, ironically, a very inviting place.
There is much here to admire: the scope, ambition and sheer bravado of “Pelagial” is worthy of several cap doffin. As you’d probably also expect of a dyed in the wool progressive metal record, you can hear the influences, often alarmingly well. If Maynard James Keenan isn’t on the phone to his lawyer on at least three of these tracks then I might just get on the phone on his behalf myself. You get the idea. But “Pelagial” is much more than its influences. Much, much more. There is breadth and depth to the musical landscape that the band are now portraying and inhabiting. There is ambition, belief. Chutzpah,even.
“Pelagial” might get described elsewhere as a masterpiece. It isn’t that: but that doesn’t mean it isn’t full of some sublime music that you will come back to time and again. Like I said earlier, you need to give this record time, just as the band have given you, their humble listener. In the case of “Pelagial,” patience is an unequivocal virtue.