While as a genre, tech metal allows its artists to delve into expansion and risk taking more than most - it still comes across as a welcome shock to the senses every now and again to see how far some bands are willing to go with it. Birmingham's Ocean's Ate Alaska though still very much at the precipice of their tenure as a metal band - are a quintet that seem determined to shove boundaries, and add more than a pinch of spice to their music whenever the chance is present.
The midlanders' sophomore album Hikari is an exploration of Japanese/Samurai mythology, with both lyrical and instrumental nods to the concept. It's a challenging leap to make, with the implementation of Japanese instruments pumping through the veins of the album - and with new vocalist Jake Noakes only replacing James Harrison in February of this year, Hikari could very well have turned out to be a disappointment. However, it's quite the contrary.
Full of the kind of textural flair found on OAA's debut record Lost Isles, Hikari is often a spectacle of tech metal, with the Birmingham metallers peacocking their talents with every twisting time change. As expected, Hikari is home to its fair share of ravaging metal - which blurs the lines between death metal and deathcore, 'Deadweight' is a scouring kick of growls and punts and sits comfortably as some of the heaviest work the quintet have done.
But while Hikari is by absolutely no means an album that drops Oceans Ate Alaska's intensity, the melody from Noakes blends effortlessly with the avalanche of tech metal surrounding him, and his ability to still be the centre of attention in tracks that are a cocophony of metal intricacies such as 'Birth-Marked' and 'Covert' is at times baffling.
For the most part, the record can be summarised as a change up between shattering brutality and euphoric crescendo, but there are moments where OAA divert into more purposefully emotive tones. Admittedly the intensity drops on the title track and 'Hansha', but the quality and level of connection certainly doesn't.
Taking away every element other than musicianship, and Hikari is a record that makes it hard to not have admiration for, and while the production job has somehow managed to capture every inch of the bands talents on the record - it's drummer Chris Turner who often steals the show, with some fills on the album that need to be heard to be believed. Instrumental tracks 'Veridical' and 'Ukiyo' are beautiful, morose, and mesmeric.
Hikari is a record that paints a flattering picture with its technicalities and intimacies, but there is also an incredible amount of depth within its layers, making it much more than just a quintet of great musicians with no structure. It's an album that goes past progressive metalcore and is instead a metal album that gives off several emotions at once. For a band that have been flirting with major success since their inception - Oceans Ate Alaska just became big players in the metalcore scene.
Review By Kristian Pugh