Review Summary: A nod to the past, while looking to the future.
Aussie hardcore lads ‘Ocean Grove’ are a tough act to pigeonhole; and although perhaps their debut full-length could best be described as a love letter to mid-‘90s grunge and alt-metal, ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ is far more than a tribute album. Essentially they’ve created the musical equivalent of Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’; while the homages to a style and time period are indisputable – and almost bordering on imitation at some points – it’s unmistakably a modern sound. In fact, although undoubtedly an outlier of UNFD's ever-expanding catalogue, a label which primarily focuses on modern hardcore and metalcore acts, Ocean’s Grove are not without comparison among their peers; and indeed share many similarities with their label-mates, such as the nuts-and-bolts hardcore of Deez Nuts and the low-tuned groove metal of Void Of Vision. But while Ocean’s Grove's sound does encompass some of the modern trappings of the genre, it’s ironically their resurrection of musical elements and styles which have long since left the collective consciousness, which makes this record much more of a fresh and compelling listen.
While an abundance of modern hardcore acts adhere to a singular mindset and style throughout a record, often to the point of fatigue, this is not an accusation which can be levelled at ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’. Drawing on the enormous well of inspiration from mid-‘90s metal, alongside a few tropes from recent metalcore, hardcore and djent-metal - as well as nods to the rap-metal and nu-metal resurgence of the past few years - means there’s a lot to try and cram into twelve tracks; for better or worse. While songs such as ‘Beers’ are a straight-down-the-line take on hardcore punk, in the style of bands such as ‘Beartooth’, with energetic fast-paced verses and a by-the-numbers although functional chorus, it’s where the band mixes this basic style with other influences that the album really shines.
The choice of chord progressions, coupled with the effortless shifting of dynamics - from softly crooned verses to soaring hard rock choruses - on tracks such as ‘The Wrong Way’ nods to songs like Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ to the extent it could be a sequel; and tracks like ‘When You’re This High You Can Say What You Like’ and ‘Stratosphere Love’, with laid-back upbeat metal-grooves brings to mind Rage Against The Machine classics, such as ‘Bulls On Parade’. Ocean Grove’s hip-hop, electronic and grime influences also ebb and flow in and out throughout the record, such as on ‘Intimate Alien’, a seamless mesh of older styled nu-metal in the vein of Korn and modern rap-metal artists like Hacktivist; and shorter tracks such as the industrial, dub-influenced, bouncy ‘Slow Soap Soak’, which comes completely out of left field, embrace these elements completely, with surprisingly effective results. There’s even a softer a side to the band, evident in album closer ‘Hitachi’, which blends a dark, electronic atmosphere with laid back synthesized percussion and acoustic guitars flawlessly, which draws comparisons to some of Gorillaz's laid back offerings.
The issues that all these conflicting styles raise are evident; and although the diversity of ideas on show leads to many delightfully unexpected twists and turns throughout, it often lacks an overall sense of cohesiveness. There’s a real sense throughout that the hip-hop and hardcore sides of the band are pulling furiously against each other, competing for dominance, leading to a few moments which feel rather disjointed; and indeed it's much like the band hasn’t quite reached the final evolution of the possibilities of this sound just yet. But make no mistake; when it works – it works. It’s an album, which when at its best, subverts the expectations of what a modern metal act needs to be. It’s an album which unashamedly embraces the best of the past, while looking forwards to the future. It’s a strange oddity, a fascinating peculiarity in a scene which all too often tends to play it safe; and I’ll take that over a by-the-numbers hardcore band any day.
When You're This High You Can Say What You Like
The Wrong Way
Slow Soap Soak