We Are The Universe
Concept albums are a staple of heavy metal. King Diamond, for example, has devoted his entire career to them. However, in a refreshing change of pace, German post-metal collective The Ocean has given us a glimpse of that rarest of birds: the DOUBLE concept album. The band’s latest efforts, Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, focus on the tried and true themes of questioning the tenets of Christianity, and the significance of man’s existence on Earth and his position in the universe.
The first release, Heliocentric, explores the initially heretical belief that the Earth was not the center of the universe, instead revolving around the Sun. Opening with the sounds of the Plague of Locusts “Shamayim,” we segue into the creation of the world “Firmament,” with new vocalist Loic Rossetti lifting his lyrics directly from the book of Genesis. The next track, “The First Commandment of The Luminaries,” makes it clear that The Ocean is not your average post-metal act, utilizing the song’s bridge to introduce the melancholy sounds of a solitary cello, and chiming piano melodies floating over a solid drum-n-bass foundation. The band continues this juxtaposition of brutality and gentleness through songs like “Metaphysics Of The Hangman,” which draws inspiration from the writings of Rimbaud and Nietzsche; “Catharsis Of A Heretic,” which features a haunting brass section; and “Epiphany,” which plays out like an aria from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, complete with chamber orchestra. The album closes with a taste of things to come, the songs “The Origin Of Species,” about Darwin’s crowning achievement, and “The Origin Of God,” which posits the atheist’s eternal question: if God created the universe, then who created God? The closing track also ends with a decidedly un-metal jazz saxophone duel, which only serves to further highlight The Ocean’s commitment to defying expectations.
The Ocean follows up with Anthropocentric, which continues the criticism of Fundamentalism and Creationism. After bludgeoning listeners with the title track, the band brings us the first song in a trilogy, “The Grand Inquisitor,” which borrows from the chapter of the same name in Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov.” Jesus himself is apprehended by the Inquisition during the Second Coming, then interrogated and tortured for his perceived crimes against the church, denying man salvation by offering him his freedom. Dostoyevsky used this imagery to underscore the lunacy of the Catholic Church during this period in history, and The Ocean uses it to the same end for modern times. Overall, Anthropocentric follows the formula established by Heliocentric, a wash of heavy guitars punctuated by gentle arpeggios and crunchy electronic pads. However, Anthropocentric mostly eschews the use of pianos and strings in favor of guitar orchestras, to great effect. Songs like “She Was The Universe,” “The Grand Inquisitor II”, and “Heaven TV” tear forth from the mouth of Hell and refuse to back down, pummeling the listener with blood-curdling vocals, grinding bass, highly technical drums, and a Black Forest’s worth of guitars. Vocalist Rossetti does bring the album to a gorgeous and thought-provoking ending with a choir singing, “There’s no one here that knows it all,” and while The Ocean does offer respite in songs like “For He That Wavereth…” and “Wille Zum Untergang”, the emphasis here is truly on how much metal the band can bring, so they so desire.
Since the songs on Heliocentric and Anthropocentric were recorded simultaneously, they all share the same productions values. On Heliocentric in particular, the loud passages are perfectly balanced with the soft, allowing the listener to experience the ups and downs of the record without worrying about having their eardrums shattered. The vocals are positioned perfectly, always present, but never detracting from the ensemble. The guitars are layered and panned so as to hear all the individual parts as well as the cohesive unit they create, and the judicious string and horn sections are given center stage when they appear. It’s very easy to become lost inside each of these albums, and to forget just how dense the compositions are, creating an almost infinite amount of replay value in the quest to discover everything about the records.
These albums offer something for literally everyone, despite being packaged as post-metal. Classical, jazz, trance, drum-n-bass, ambient, musical theater, name your poison. Even if your music of choice is Native American folk fusion, there’s something here for you. Bands like The Ocean are a treat in this treacherous landscape of sound we call modern music. Don’t miss this.