It’s been five years since Pelagial, the last album from German harsh progressives The Ocean. The quartet, again referring to themselves as The Ocean Collective and now with Mattias Hagerstrand on bass duties, is renowned for its prolific output as well as incendiary live shows, so the anticipation for eighth studio album Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade Records) is huge. Continue reading
Post-metal greats The Ocean have announced their new double album, their 8th, later this year from their own imprint Pelagic Records. Phanerozoic will come in two parts, over the next two years, and will be the follow up to 2013’s epic Pelagial. The band has stated that their recently reissued 2007 Precambrian is the reference point for the new music. Continue reading
Pelagic Records will be releasing their In the Twilight, These Rocks Have Teeth compilation on September 29th. The first disc of the compilation showcases the labels post-rock offerings, while the second disc focuses on the heavy stuff they’ve released over the past eight years. One of those “heavy” tracks is an unreleased songk by The Ocean that is streaming online right now. Continue reading
Massachusetts metalcore legends, Killswitch Engage, are back with another solid release, Incarnate (Roadrunner). This is the second album released since Howard Jones left the group and original singer, Jesse Leach, stepped back into his vocal duties. While I will avoid the Jones vs. Leach debate, I will say that this work may be the most mature work from Leach-fronted Killswitch. The Westfield, MA natives continue to tinker with their sound to make the heavy, heavier and the melodic, more emotional and memorable, but do not stray too far away from what they know works. In no way would I call this an experimental album, but neither is it a safe one.
Incarnate is one of those albums that gets stronger the farther down you go. While some of the opening tracks are good songs, the second half of the album avoids the “more of the same” sentiments that I am sure many metalcore deserters would use. ‘Embrace the Journey…Upraised’ kicks off the second half of the album which showcases the Killswitch sound the best. Thunderous verse riffs with harsh vocals that lead into a hardcore pre-chorus followed by an uplifting, memorable chorus. The bridge/breakdown builds off of the pre-chorus parts to bring the track together. ‘It Falls on Me’ is one of the tracks that broke the mold a bit and borrowed some post-metal influences (The Ocean certainly came to mind, specifically the Pelagial album). The bridge of the track brings some of the ever emotional, yet catchy tremolo guitar work with a nice delay effect to create a spacey feel. The outro of the song reminds the listening that this is Killswitch Engage with a breakdown and harsh vocals to complete a very Jekyll and Hyde track. ‘We Carry On’ might be the best track written by the band since The End of Heartache era. This track brings together all of the elements present on Incarnate and then blend them together into one epic ballad. Heavy guitar riffs, catchy melodies, uplifting lyrics with both harsh and clean vocals, plus a little more of the spacey guitar effects seen on ‘It Falls on Me’ are all eloquently mixed. The closer, ‘Ascension’, is a return to the norm and wraps up the record perfectly. This is certainly the most “hardcore” track on the album and leaves the listener with Jesse Leach shouting “This is fair warning…your time… will… come!”
With so much music coming out the past couple of years, and mostly on the extreme side, it is always nice to return to the middle of the spectrum. Killswitch Engage once again has pulled me back to my youth with this release. My hometown heroes came through and then some on Incarnate.
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German post-metal kings The Ocean (a.k.a. The Ocean Collective) posted to their Facebook that they have booked an extensive fall tour of Europe. Support is to come from Mono and Sólstafir. Notable stops include Into The Void and Damnation Festival. The Ocean is still touring behind 2013’s Pelagial (Metal Blade/Pelagic) album.
The Ocean’s statement on Facebook
“We’re excited to announce that we will be touring Europe with Mono (Japan) and SÓLSTAFIR in October / November. We are aiming to play a completely new set of old songs that we have never played before on this tour, as well as some new material. These are the dates, more to be added soon”
The Ocean Tour Dates, with Mono and Sólstafir:
Oct 10 Voxhall – Aarhus, DK
Oct 13 Vulkan Arena – Oslo, NO
Oct 14 Debaser Medis – Stockholm SE
Oct 18 Zhal Ozhidaniya – St Petersburg, RU
Oct 19 Volta – Moscow, RU
Oct 21 New York – Vilnius, LI
Oct 22 Proxima – Warsaw, PL
Oct 23 Heimathafen – Berlin, DE
Oct 24 Into The Void Fest – Leeuwarden, NL
Oct 27 Schlachthof – Wiesbaden, DE
Oct 28 Backstage – Munich, DE
Oct 29 Locomotiv – Bologna, IT
Oct 30 Bloom – Mezzago IT,
Oct 31 Ninkasi Kao – Lyon, FR
Nov 02 Metronum – Toulouse, FR
Nov 03 Les Docks – Lausanne, CH
Nov 04 Harterei – Zürich, CH
Nov 05 Trabendo – Paris, FR
Nov 06 Electric Ballroom – London, UK
Nov 07 Damnation Fest – Leeds, UK
“It wasn’t about coming up with a super smart ass intellectual concept.” – Robin Staps, on the art of writing a concept album.
Robin Staps is in fine fettle. Tonight’s show in Leeds may have not been a sell-out but the devoted few who attended the white hot show at The Cockpit were certainly appreciative of his efforts. A devoted outdoorsman known for his love of Dostoevsky and various highbrow pursuits the Berlin based musician is jubilant upon hearing the news that Germany have dismantled hosts Brazil 7-1 in a dramatic world cup semi-final.
Listening to his music you could be forgiven for thinking Staps a driven intellectual yet while that is unmistakably the case, he is also an affable character keen to converse on many topics not least his band’s ever changing line up and dynamic new album ‘Pelagial’.
“I postponed writing this album for about four or five years because I wasn’t sure how to do this.” Robin confesses when quizzed as to why he choose to write a record comprised of a single track split into sections. “I wanted to write a single piece of music as it is such a great challenge. There is a certain curve of tension that has to run through it. It is a journey from the surface of the ocean to the deep sea. It was a matter of trial and error. It was a very spontaneous record but it took a lot of time to work some ideas out.”
Indeed the concept of the new release, if not the musical direction, has drawn comparisons to the ‘Precambrian’ record in that the nautical themes are being revisited. Robin however sees them as very different entities. “The concept was quite different. The lyrics on ‘Precambrian’ only had a loose theme which metaphorically made reference to the ocean. ‘Pelagial’ almost all the lyrics were written with a very clear concept behind them. The fact this record has an oceanic theme makes it more similar to that than the ‘Centric records but this is definitely an evolution for us. The lyrics, the artwork and the music all had to adhere to this concept.”
Clearly a fan of the concept album Staps surprisingly doesn’t necessarily feel he has to continue producing music in this way. “I have not conceived any ideas of for the next record but I can imagine writing more punk rock record in the sense that it doesn’t all adhere to one theme. It certainly won’t be about space or anything lame like that.” He laughed. “I have a couple of new tracks written but I want to let ‘Pelagial’sink in first”.
‘Pelagial’ is a companion film of the record produced by noted Craig Murray famed for his work on videos for Converge and Nine Inch Nails. Robin explained to Ghost Cult how this collaboration came about. “We were put in contact by a friend of mine in Canada. The diversity of his work is amazing. His work for Converge, Nine Inch Nails and P.G. Lost is all so different, he has an outstanding portfolio. I took him through the concept of ‘Pelagial’ and he loved it. We spent hours Skyping, talking about the concept of the record. I’d tell him my ideas and he would translate my words into images. Language is such a difficult medium to translate into art but Craig really gets the point. It’s hard to say what I liked most about his work. He is working with a lot of subliminal sexual themes in a way that is not geared at being sexually exploitative but purely the aesthetics. I love the work he has done for a couple of songs on the ‘Centric records which we use when we play live. His work has a lot of symmetry, he brings my ideas to the next level.”
A true multimedia savvy artist Staps’ records have been unafraid to discuss weighty subjects like the cooling of the earth’s crust and a scientific indictment of Christianity. Craig Murray may have been instrumental in giving Robin’s work an image but Staps has taken inspiration from many leading thinkers. “Dostoyevsky inspires a lot on the ‘Centrics and there are some quotes from Nietzsche as well as subliminal references to their work. He was the most severe critic of Christianity in the 17th century. On the song ‘The City Of The Sea’ we use a poem by Edgar Alan Poe, so I like to draw from a lot of great thinkers to express my vision. Inspiration is a black box. 6 or 7 years ago I was influenced by several different things than I am now.”
Always pushing into new territories The Ocean remains uncompromising in their approach to art. Looking at the tall tattooed musician you notice Robin’s arms are inked with the image of the sea. Considering Staps had not one but two brushes with death nearly drowning twice when on holiday as a youngster it’s somewhat remarkable to find he is a keen scuba diver. “I took up scuba after that but the fact that I had some traumatic experiences as a child does not colour my perceptions of the sea. I was never afraid to go into the water. I have always been drawn to its magic. I have been scuba diving since I was 14. All the near death experiences gave me was more respect for the sea and be aware of the dangers that lurk there.”
Robin’s love of a challenge is maybe just as well considering the line-up of The Ocean has been more or less in constant flux. The ‘Centrics seemed to signal a period of growth and stability for the group until the departure of guitarist Jonathan Nido and drummer Luc Hess saw to it that the group who had remained a unit for the last four years would again require a shift in personnel. Luckily Australian guitarist Damian Murdoch and War From A Harlots Mouth sticksman Paul Seidel would step into the breach. “The combination of any group of people is unique. You are basically starting from scratch again, having to do things you have done many times before but with new people. It brings new challenges, new characters to adapt to. It can be very rewarding with a new person bringing a breath of fresh air. Human beings that play music are usually very strong characters but when it works it is great. In the final phase of the old line up a couple of the guys (Nic and Hess) didn’t want to tour anymore. The change had to happen for us both. If people don’t want to tour anymore they should not be in this band. The old line up got to a stage when it was not rewarding to either party. The old guys fulfilled their commitments to the end of the tour and the way they announced their departure was very respectful and good for this band.”
Robin talks about togetherness and working as a group but make no mistake this is his project of which he is the creative head, something which he sees almost as a calling. “I couldn’t imagine not being creative and working with this band. I have fought to keep this going and am proud to have done so. We have some great people in the band now and the chemistry is great. I didn’t want to change the line-up but the change had to happen for this band to survive and thrive.”
A student of marine biology and dedicated non believer (in respect of organised religion) Staps remains the affable and friendly gent seen drinking beer and partying on the ‘Collective Oblivion’ DVD, even when explaining passionate the ideas which shaped his world view. There is no tirade against the religious right forthcoming form him, just a careful well considered set of ideas by which he holds dear. “I accept I must have a very existential approach to life. As I have chosen to accept that there is nothing after I die. I believe we must make the most of the limited time on earth we have together rather than put stock in any esoteric after life. Knowing that it is limited for me makes it much more precious. Christians believe that they will be rewarded for good behaviour after they die but if you look at life as being limited it makes it more vital. It’s like the sample on Neurosis ‘Enemy Of The Sun’ record; “How many times will you watch the full moon rise. It is an important step towards self-realisation”
Strongly self-reliant and independent Staps remains gear towards doing things his way. Refusing to relocate from Berlin despite the majority of his bandmates residing a thousand miles away in Switzerland, he has never been one for taking the easy way out.
“I’m not afraid of challenges and confrontation but it is not like I look for stress because I enjoy that. All the challenges I overcome in my personal life flow back into the music. I think the next record will be even more personal than ‘Pelagial’ was. The reason I wrote the ‘Centrics was not because I just wanted to attack religion so went to the library to do some research but because at sixteen I was living with a Baptist creationist host family when I was studying in the U.S. who I had conversations with on a daily basis. It wasn’t about coming up with a super smart ass intellectual concept.”
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Due to issues with their van, The Ocean’s arrival to the venue is delayed. Having been travelling for 36 hours since their set at With Full Force festival one could forgive the German/Swiss outfit if they were less than one hundred percent.
After nearly an hour we are yet into the venue to be greeted by a set from local act Hieroglyph who boast ex-Fragments Of Faith singer Valentina Reptile in their ranks. Crammed onto the small stage the sextet belt out their dual vocal djent metal with gusto. Co-vocalist Mark Howes harsh growls provide contrast with Val’s Gothic diva presence. Numbers like ‘Parasitus’ still bare many hallmarks of acts like TesseracT but considering the group have been together only since December 2012 they show enough prowess to be considered ones to watch in the future.
Wasting no time the headliners take to the stage and launch into the title track of ‘Pelagial’. Bathed in blue light, any thoughts of tiredness are immediately forgotten as you are caught in the current of this all-consuming noise which blends post metal, jazz overtones and classical textures of mesmerizing effect.
The backdrop of visuals is certainly a key to the presentation, being connected so completely with the songs it accompanies, yet the five musicians onstage are hardly static particularly livewire vocalist Loic Rossetti who is hurling himself around the stage one moment then sat cross-legged on a monitor the next.
Creative hub Robin Staps nurtures shimmering harmonics and tidal waves of distortion from his instrument at will. His intense concentration reciprocated by the audience who are transfixed by his band’s every move. Playing your new opus in its entirety is a bold endeavour but one which is carried off with such masterful ease.
The encore sees the band sign off with ‘Origin Of The Species’ to an ecstatic response. They were up against it tonight, but like a force of nature they were unstoppable.
WORDS: ROSS BAKER
PHOTOS: ECHOES IN THE WELL PHOTOGRAPHY
The Ocean has created one of the most adventurous concept albums in recent time. Pelagial (Metal Blade) comes out on 30, April and is a progressive metal masterpiece. Ghost Cult caught up with Robin Staps to discuss the creative process of the making the album and plumb the depths of many facets of birthing this long-planned work. Continue reading
With their fondness for double-albums, imposing sound and dense lyrical themes concerning all manner of philosophical concepts, Berlin’s The Ocean have tended to put some newcomers off, who find the band as vast and unfathomable as what they’re named after. But while this trepidation is perhaps justified, those willing to take the plunge and take to the depths of Pelagial will be richly rewarded, for there’s a plethora of treasure to be found. Continue reading