German post-metallers The Ocean have certainly made a niche for themselves within the progressive metal umbrella. Not only have they stylistically managed to master combining the crushing heaviness of sludge metal and post-metal with the delicate intricacies of post-rock and progressive rock, they are also able to write music that tonally relates to a process or period of time they are talking about. Lyrically they are most well-known for writing about different geological timeframes, this being exemplified the best on their 2007 album Precambrian and the more recently released Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. Both these albums are linked thematically to each other, telling the story of the Earth from its violent infancy on tracks like 'Hadean', all the way up to the Permian-Triassic extinction event, also known as the Great Dying. This mass extinction event that killed 95% of all life on earth was illustrated beautifully on the final track on Phanerozoic I, with the lyrics being written from the perspective of an animal that was part of the 5% that survived.
After Phanerozoic I was released, The Ocean promised fans that this album would be followed up by a second album which would continue the story right up to the present day, and now, two years later, that story is told on Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic. The album’s opener, 'Triassic', is quite an upbeat affair by The Ocean’s standards, and acts as quite a contrast from Phanerozoic I which was a mostly slow-moving beast which created enormous soundscapes. As a song, 'Triassic' works very well with continuing the story following 'The Great Dying', musically and lyrically displaying a new world following the extinction event.
However, this new world is completely torn down in the following track 'Jurassic | Cretaceous', which portrays the extinction event at the end of the Mesozoic era. Despite being one of the longest songs The Ocean has ever released, 'Jurassic | Cretaceous' wastes none of its 13 minute run-time, with some truly crushing riffs coupled with some fantastic brass and keyboard instrumentation to add atmosphere, as well as a vocal feature from Katatonia’s Jonas Renske, who also collaborated on Phanerozoic I. This song shows The Ocean at their absolute best, building tension during the quieter sections and delivering crushing heaviness to release that tension. Lyrically the song alludes to the current debates on climate change, with lyric lines like “we are just like reptiles, giant rulers of the world. Within the blink of an eye wiped off the face of the earth.” In spite of being a song about an extinction event that happened before human beings existed, the lyrics are written from a very human perspective.
The entire album is very thematically and musically influenced by the large climate fluctuations that have occurred within the last 237 million years. The third track, 'Palaeocene', packs a serious punch in its relatively short 4 minute run-time, with only a brief softer period around the two minute mark. Some of the chord progressions on this track also sound very black metal inspired, creating a very sinister and dark atmosphere. The two following tracks, 'Eocene' and 'Oligocene', are comparably much softer, with 'Oligocene' being completely instrumental. These softer songs provide a nice contrast from the heavier start to the album, and also set the listener up for the oncoming storm that comes up on the following two tracks, 'Miocene | Pliocene' and 'Pleistocene'. These geological epochs are categorized by a global cooling, particularly the Pleistocene, when the last Ice Age occurred. This cooling is perfectly represented by the music on these two tracks, with a dark but very melodic approach. 'Pleistocene' in particular is a fantastic representation of this cold part in the Earth’s history, with the band taking a much more prominent black metal approach than usual, especially towards the back end of the track with blast beats and high-pitched screams. The final track on the album, Holocene, represents our current geological epoch, and it is a brooding, dark and subtle track. It’s a fitting end to a very varied album, and when it finishes, perhaps most appropriately; it feels like a story that will be continued.
If Phanerozoic I did a fantastic job at showcasing the destruction of the Permian-Triassic extinction event and the geological timeframes that led up to that, Phaerozoic II is nothing less than a fantastic portrayal of the varied history of the last 250 million years, and concluding with a track that reflects the relative tranquillity of the epoch we currently live in, but also containing a sinister side, reflecting the effects of anthropomorphic climate change and how that may have negative effects on human civilisation in the future. Make no mistake; Phanerozoic II is nothing short of a masterpiece. At this point, The Ocean seem to be able to crank out mammoth albums as if it’s second nature; the high bar they set for themselves they meet and surpass with flying colours on every consecutive release.
Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic is released September 25th via Pelagic Records.