Consistency is the best word that can be used to describe a band like The Ocean. After releasing the critically acclaimed album Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade Records/Pelagic Records) in 2018, the Germans come back with can possibly be a solid candidate for album of the year in Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic (Metal Blade Records/Pelagic Records). And it’s just that this band keeps raising the musical and creative bars that are out there. They are not afraid to crush any musical barriers and do love to delve into unknown territories and as a result, they always come out on the winning end of it.
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
The Ocean approaches the release of their new masterwork Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Pelagic Records), releasing on November 2nd. The band just released a new single and an accompanying visualiser for ‘Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence’ in which the band worked with director Craig Murray, using makeup and hand-molded masks, transforms vocalist Loic Rossetti into a Cambrian-age lichen-creature, weaving molds of the band into a rocky prehistoric landscape, taking hours to meticulously shoot the video frame-by-frame. 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
“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
With winter’s frozen spirit finally broken we got out on drizzly, but not too awful Sunday night to see some of sludge and prog’s finest bands at The Sinclair for the last night of this trek. Before the show we hung out at a local dive/diner Charlie’s Kitchen, where we sipped beers with buds, and our contest winner, who won two free tickets to the show, Mike Vargus, courtesy of Prosthetic Records. Thanks guys! Good times!
With the popularity of prog, especially local to Boston with Berklee School of Music right nearby, it was a confluence of music nerds, “girlfriend metal” types, hipsters, crusties, vest wearing mofos, and our usual army of Boston metal types in the house. It’s funny to me sometimes how clique-ish groups of people are at metal shows these days, in many way reminding me of the early 90s again. Silver Snakes from L.A. hit that stage first and sounded tight, but were a little uneven musically at the start. I think it was their set list because they got stronger as they played on. They play an energetic mix of post-hardcore and alt-metal that you can definitely get into. They had their fans in the house, so that helped.
The Atlas Moth came next, and when we last saw our mid-western sludge heroes, they blew our brains out opening for Gojira and Devin Townsend last year. In the meantime they have been hard at work recording their highly anticipated new album, The Old Believer (Profound Lore), due this June. The Atlas Moth has always been a humble bunch, willing to open for anyone, stick to their guns and slog it out on the road in vans for a long time. Judging by tonight’s performance, including three new songs, I think their days as an opening band are numbered. Doing what they do best, a slow-burn and churn of layered riffs and waves of sounds, and just bludgeoning the crowd sonically with songs like ‘Coffin Varnish’ and ‘Holes In the Desert’. The interplay of the band, especially Stavros Giannopoulos and Dave Kush who alternate guitars and vocals, just kills. Of the new numbers in the set, ‘Halcyon Boulevard’ was a real face peeler, and you could tell the band has advanced their sound once again. I was impressed with the quality of the volume tonight too, since sometimes the band is so loud, it hurts. Basically never trust a fart at The Atlas Moth show! You might regret it.
The Ocean was next and I was beyond excited to see them.. The co-headlining tour has afforded this musically adventurous troupe the ability to add a little more production value to their show now, which is great. Awash in blue lights and with a cool video screen full of quirky images synchronized to their set, the band put on a great show. Playing Pelagial (Metal Blade) in its entirety was a magical experience to witness. Granted, it was my personal favorite album of the year for 2013, so I have probably spun it more times than anyone except Robin Staps’ mom, but this heady masterpiece of an album was meant to be enjoyed complete, not unlike Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd, or even more recently Crack The Skye by Mastodon. The band is very purposeful in their performance and definitely feel the heavy emotions of the music they play. Vocalist Loic Rossetti definitely plays to the crowd, although atypical of many singers, he spends most of his time lurking toward the back of the stage, except when singing. It was a masterful performance and as far as I could tell the music was played to perfection. I ended up missing the last quarter of their performance to do some interviews I had to conduct back stage, but I did catch the unexpected highlight of the night. Stavros from The Atlas Moth came out to do a lead vocal turn towards the end of the set. It was a pretty killer and the crowd was a little stunned. Some folks filed out after The Ocean, which is always a little disappointing.
Last up, Scale the Summit were due to hit the stage. With a little sparser set up that The Ocean, STS is a band I respect a great deal. Some instrumental prog bands and even some of your post metal bands like Rosetta and Pelican) try too hard to “put on a show” rather than just let the music do the talking. They set up quick with the lights up and started to play without so much as a word to start things off. Like their co-headliners, Scale the Summit made great use of the video screen behind them. I had seen the band as an opener, but never for a headlining set and certainly not on as big. Each man played their instrument to perfection as they had the audience entranced with their music. Well, most of the audience. I definitely saw a few put upon girlfriends and spouses who were dragged out tonight, likely against their wills. Meanwhile the band, fairly oblivious to the audience for them most part, played with a lot of passion and not really machine-like perfection, but with a lot of soul. STS is heavy, but a different kind of heavy. They definitely leaned on The Collective and The Migration for the set list, but there were few complaints. It was a very enjoyable show and the again, staying true to what the band is about: simplicity in style, and outstanding musicianship. After the show the band hung out and signed autographs and took pictures with fans, which was really cool too. We caught up with Chris Letchford to thank him for the show, and talk about their upcoming prog cruise show opening for Yes.
Scale The Summit Set List:
The Dark Horse
The Olive Tree
Origin of Species
Words: Keith Chachkes
Photos: Echoes In The Well