Within the near eternity of time that it took for Planet Earth to produce its current abundance of life, five mass extinctions aside, this period of 541 million years was both desperately uncertain and remarkably generative.
The immense pressures and global transformations that ultimately spawned humankind from an initial period of hard-shelled organisms can be broken down further into three distinct eras within a whole timeline, with the the first being comprised of an earlier and later section. The complete Phanerozoic eon began with the Palaeozoic era, the namesake of the latest album from Germany’s The Ocean. In tracing the history of this current five piece, one will discover the sheer intellectualism of this band through an entire discography of academically-titled concept albums, hopefully provoking their audiences to read deeper into these topical influences.
The Ocean’s prior releases are comprised of rumination on ocean depths (Pelagial, 2017), a two part release critiquing Christianity (2010’s Anthropocentric and Heliocentric), their first geologically-themed release (Precambrian, 2007), and two earlier releases relating respectively to musical theory and the scientific concept of change, (Aeolian, 2005, and Fluxion, 2004). The topic of geology has clearly left some unfinished business to attend to in greater detail, leaving us to wonder whether Phanerozoic I is the first in a tetralogy drawing on these four distinct chapters in Earth’s primeval history, as mentioned earlier. In actual fact, it has been revealed that The Ocean’s succeeding release, Phanerozoic II, will be out in two years time, potentially cramming these three remaining eras into one body of work.
With Palaeozoic Earth subjectively being the time with the most radical alterations for a previously unliveable, acidic and boiling planet, this boldly unique subject matter intrinsically holds fear and drama for listeners with a knowledge of context, adding a greater element of depth for what would simply be another fine post-metal album. Mirroring life spawned from primordial soup, ambient opener “The Cambrian Explosion” perfectly establishes a gradual increase for immense distortion and seismic drums to ensue. When singer Loïc Rossetti suddenly begins growling out the lyrical heft to “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence”, his guttural vocals may be articulate enough to be understood by those with a trained ear, as he provides philosophical opinions on this scientific basis with varying degrees of severity. Contrasting to this, his calm and graceful clean vocals stand out at the front of the mix, describing cryptic meditations on the beauty and violence of formation, destruction and repetition. The addition of uplifting harmony vocals seem to allude to ideas of renewal and new birth for ancient Earth, through clean soaring tones juxtaposed with crushing vocal force. With the exception of “The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse”, six of the seven tracks lyrically relate to the six periods within the Palaeozoic, deconstructing the longest of Earth’s three Phanerozoic eras.
The underlying strength of The Ocean’s visceral musicality propels the vocal and conceptual impact of the record, and is truly revealed on select instrumental sections. A rich tonal blend of guitars, piano, cello and synthesisers sublimely peaks on tracks such as “Devonian: Nascent”, complimented here with a passage of drums played with soft mallets. Slow building, hypnotic pieces such as the eleven minute long “Devonian” transition textually through great dynamic shifts in density and volume, while also saving room for parts played by two instruments only. Economical performances ensure each that note, chord, beat or harmony is important, being carefully placed and valued within the whole of the track. This is a testament to The Ocean’s substantial rehearsal time before recording, eliminating the chance of risky improvisation or meaningless drifting. Rather, the sudden nature of calculated musical changes mirror unpredictability in the story of Earth’s ancient life, further establishing this conceptual basis. Founding member, guitarist, and programmer Robin Staps’ artistic determination and masterful ability as a composer is also a major force in the effectiveness of this record. Meanwhile, drummer Paul Siedel’s compelling and muscular playing creates the vital bedrock for “Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic”, both in enhancing immensity or lending a pulse to quieter tonal exploration. The grimness of subject matter on tracks such as “Permian: The Great Dying”, detailing an event in which 95% of Earth’s life was killed, is honoured in through a fantastic production job to instil a real sense of gravity and weight to the album. I believe this to be the true definition of ‘heavy’ music.
The spirit of Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic is characterised through a process of release, tension, space and unrelenting walls of sound, reflecting the gargantuan forces that first spawned and destroyed life on our ancient planet.
- The Cambrian Explosion
- Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence
- Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana
- Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions
- Devonian: Nascent
- The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse
- Permian: The Great Dying