Review Summary: A truly brilliant album which combines everything metal with elements of hardcore, jazz and post rock.“Impenetrable as the giants I have lived incessantly with my eyes staring wide open. You will not, in my last hour, find me surrounded by priests. I want to die lulled by the waves of the stormy sea”
Frequently in music reviews I see across the internet and other mediums it is becoming more and more of an artistic convention to describe music as being “Epic” and in the vast majority of cases this is essentially a substitute for the word “long.” A band like The Mars Volta for example writes long songs, that is a given, but I wouldn’t describe them as epic. There is no build up; there is no cathartic release after the ten minutes of plugging away and there are no incredibly vague politically orientated samples by strange men named after ex-Iron Maiden vocalists. I’ve even seen it ascribed to bands like Relient K or Anberlin, merely because they stretched their sugar coated pop rock from a three minute ditty to a seven minute ballad. So while I would love to describe this album as epic piece of work, I can’t help but feel that doesn’t quite cut it and doesn’t adequately get across quite how grand a project this is.
“Precambrian” is Germany’s The Ocean’s four studio LP and for the slightly nerdish amongst you the title is a dead giveaway to the subject the album attempts to chronicle. A quick scan over at Wikipedia reveals,
“The Precambrian (Pre-Cambrian) is an informal name for the supereon comprising the eons of the geologic timescale that came before the current Phanerozoic eon. It spans from the formation of Earth around 4500 Ma (million years ago) to the evolution of abundant macroscopic hard-shelled animals, which marked the beginning of the Cambrian, the first period of the first era of the Phanerozoic eon, some 542 Ma.”
Which in layman’s terms means they are writing the soundtrack to the formation of the earth, spread across two LP’s, running from the violent and volatile beginnings to the more subdued cooling and evolution of early life. I’m sure we can forgive them for missing the out the part about Adam and Eve, they are European after all.
Sound wise The Ocean is an interesting if challenging prospect. In much the same way as Between the Buried and Me they are difficult to place on the metal spectrum and really transcend a whole number of sub genres ranging from the doom of Neurosis to the death metal of Opeth and the metalcore of Botch. Additionally like those bands (Botch excluded) they are not afraid to try their hands at some less predictable styles of music. That is not to discredit their originality however as they are not especially similar to any of those bands and the two albums that make up Precambrian are dramatically different in themselves and have their own separate influences.
The First Disc (Hadean/Archaean)
Instrumentally the first disc is near unrelenting brutality which owes much to the bands hardcore influences preferring to focus on low end chugging and simple pull offs and hammers as opposed to flamboyant Between the Buried and Me style shred fests. There is little double tapping or sweeping on this record however when The Ocean feel the need to lay down some technicality they are perfectly able. Showcasing this well is the opening to last track “Neoarchaean” which slips in a vaguely tech-metal esq opening riff before ripping straight back into the usual run of things but the real strength of the band is in the subtlety in song writing not in mindless technical ability, as appealing as that may be sometimes. I love Between the Buried and Me as much as the next guy but they really could use a little tact at times and moving from death metal to power metal within three seconds can sometimes come of a little tasteless and almost silly or humorous. The Ocean’s variety is less dramatic but more intelligent and the strength in songwriting is really something to stand back and behold. As opposed to identifying each movement into the death metal moment or the metal core moment or the hardcore moment, The Ocean mixes all these elements into one and has a stunning coherency and flow about them where the music is not constantly stopping and starting but is expansive and seamless.
The Second Disc (Proterozoic)
The first disc is what you might call the safe option for The Ocean, it is here in the second where there excellence really begins to show through from what at first seemed like a great band, to a band who could make classic albums. The sheer depth of what they manage on it puts other supposedly experimental metal bands to shame. Take the second song “Rhyacian” as an example. It begins with a slow burning driving intro built on repetition that musically could fit on a Godspeed You! record before breaking into the first light of clean vocals. These vocals add an element of beauty the brooding passage which is complimented well by a glockenspiel riff. The song grows from there into a swirling and furious crescendo of harmonic yet crushing guitar arrangements. This however doesn’t really work in the “silence to violence” way in which Explosions in the Sky burst into action, it is an unpredictable and chaotic manner, which again is an endearing element of the album.
Like many concept albums it is begging to be listened to as a whole and to break it into different elements and sections is to miss the point. For example “Rhyacian” is a stand out track of its own accord but preceding it is a two minute moment of comparative calm which has a post rock meets jazz style, in that a repetitive and building guitar riff is complemented by a wind and horn section akin to “Life in a Glasshouse” by Radiohead. Think of Do Make Say Think and you’re probably in the right area and that is only to skim to surface. There are also numerous electronic and nu-wave moments to be heard and even a few spots which hark back to the bands industrial days on earlier albums.
With “Precambrian” The Ocean and made a very, very special piece of art indeed. This really is music as a piece of art, this is not music for fun or music to sell records it is an artistic endeavor or experiment. Like Toby Driver’s various projects they have created something so varied and so ingenious that it transcends music as an industry. Albums are sometimes criticized for attempting to be all things to all people but rather than a criticism this is the crowning achievement of “Precambrian.” They have made an album which combines many, many forms of metal, post rock, emo, jazz, electronica and other I may have missed yet it all works and it all makes sense.
Recommended if you like
Between the Buried and Me
Maudlin of the Well
Any kind of progressive/experimental music with a heavy edge