Review Summary: Don't you wish you were pregnant?
What is it exactly that separates a good album from a truly great piece of music? Is it the ability to create catchy, strong lines that stick in your head for days on end, repeating until you must listen to the music again to cure your ailment? Is it the cohesion of the album as a whole, masterfully creating a full experience that fails to become tedious and tiresome even after many listens? Or, perhaps, is it the capacity to feel and understand each angle the composer himself felt as he was penning both the sounds and the ideas? Maybe it cannot be narrowed to only one element, but, in the end, what truly creates a masterwork is the ability of an album to remove the listener from reality and place him or her in a world crafted entirely of the inner soundscapes of an alternate dimension. Thus we fall upon …And Oceans' The Symmetry of I, The Circle of O
Amid the soaring keyboard melodies and crushing guitar lines lies an almost perfectly crafted album that is nothing short of unabashedly eccentric. …And Oceans' second album, released in 1999, takes heavy influence from the already firmly grounded genres of symphonic and black metal, yet it cannot truly be defined by either. While symphonic black metal is perhaps the most adequate classification of the albums basic sound, it does less to actually facilitate the listening experience than it does to create a negative stigma around the entire work. With the infamy surrounding other acts associated with this more generally disliked genre, the tag weighs down the fact that this album breaks free of the gimmicks of cheesy keyboard interludes and two minute instrumental tracks that serve to only break the flow of an album. It is neither boring nor pretentious, dwelling in the realms of well crafted cohesion.
Those who dislike the use of keyboards in metal would do well to stay far, far away from this release. From start to finish, and with only a few breaks here and there, the keyboards take an almost center stage in each and every song. Relying mostly on synthetic strings and piano, it seems as if the record would only fall into the trap of being weighed down by the overuse of cheesy classical-esque melodies and medieval/gothic key tones. However, the sound is anything but. Bringing an almost new-age vibe to the mix, the keyboards truly define the atmosphere of the entire work (honestly, I am reminded of Cloud City from the original Star Wars almost every time I hear the opening track).
Yet, while the keyboards define the sound, the true genius of The Symmetry of I, The Circle of O
lies in the cohesion of each instrument. Underneath the soaring symphonic melodies lurk brutal and well crafted guitar lines that never relinquish dominance to the other elements. This is not the watered-down, kvlt black metal sound Norway has been capitalizing on ever since Varg went blitzkreig. Some parts even draw influence from the song style of early death metal. The guitars and keyboards give way to each other in perfect synchronization, weaving in and out and never overstaying each parts welcome. Lacking here too is the tendency of symphonic albums to become stuck in their own orchestral wankery. The albums never relents, it is a constant stream of riffs and sounds. Never once does it break down for a four minute romp through medieval times. The only actual blight on the album's atmosphere is track five, which starts off just as promising as the rest of the album, but then breaks down into a slow, repeated riff for the last half of the song.
And to complete the "circle" enters the drumming, vocals, and, surprisingly, the lyrics. The vocals are absolutely some of the best vox you will hear in any blackened album for many songs to come. Relying heavily on the high pitched black metal rasp, vocalist K-2T4-S's screams are perfect. Yet, it is his vocal performance that gives the defining air of eccentricity to the entire album. Sometimes switching to an old school metal, high pitched singing voice, sometimes just screaming his lungs out (see Solipsism), the vocal performance is astounding. The drums, as well, are perfectly executed with amazing tone and variation almost unheard of.
However, the last element that truly makes The Symmetry of I, The Circle of O
come full circle is the strange execution of the lyrical content. You may think to yourself "wait, who actually gives a flying f*** about lyrics in metal?", and for the most part, you would be right. But you would do well to have the lyrics in front of you after a few listens to the album and just read what the lyricist has to say. Using outright strange concepts to put forth the ideas, with songs entitled "Acid Sex and Marble Teeth (You-Phoria)" and "I Wish I Was Pregnant", the lyrics, for the most part, actually have deep, metaphorical meaning and are well written for a band that hails from Finland.
Anyone who is a fan of blackened metal and keyboards (though not necessarily the two together) would do well to give this album a spin. It never relents and gives an atmosphere unlike any other album in existence today. It is quite a bit strange, but it never seems as if it is contrived or forced (Lady Gaga anyone?). The vocal performance alone is worth at least one listen and the rest of the album is worth much more.