Review Summary: A seismic shift through time.
When The Ocean unleashed their seventh studio two years ago it created a level of hype for the eventual counterpart that would follow. On the back of an already successful discography tackling themes of oceanology, astronomy and more recently the likes of paleontology, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
further continued the German based act’s dominance into an amalgamation of sounds that borrowed largely from the soundscapes of Gojira, Neurosis, Mastodon and even the likes of Tool. Yet, the evolving soundscapes The Ocean presented was undoubtedly their own. With this in mind it’s important to note that no two albums have been largely rooted together, as one entity, while being completely separate chapters - but they all enjoyed a consistency in theme. Where Palaeozoic
brought a motif of Cambrian and human kind’s earliest beginnings and wrapped into a masterclass of post-meets-progressive metal, it’s counterpart (and this year’s) Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
bridges the more dramatic alignments of the planet after a certain rock smashed into the ground signaling the end of a Triassic period.
The record’s opening piece, “Triassic” reaffirms the continuation of the group’s Phanerozoic themes as atmospheric grooves lurch into quaint, yet melancholic melody lines. Syncopated and even phrased vocals join the simple instrumentation, adding a somewhat haunting effect, but it’s the track’s initial leanings in contrast that drive The Ocean’s storyline. Heavier sludge sections trample the smoother sections of the track jolting the listener out of their peaceful state - not unlike an asteroid hitting the earth. Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
provides an early example of savagery within its soundscapes, welcoming the harshness in moments of unsuspecting tranquility. “Jurassic I Cretaceous” builds on this atmosphere, highlighting a fall of the dominant species in a thirteen minute shifting of seismic sludge. Harsh vocals accentuate the clear harshness of the time, allowing the listener to imagine the turbulence, uncertainty and expectation of what would come later. Still, a central theme remains moving from one point to the next at the rate of molten lava running from a volcanic vent. The Ocean flex on their instrumentation, slamming grooves into the brewing atmosphere and layered synth. It’s here however that The Ocean falls victim to their own nuance, occasionally meandering, if only fleetingly towards their next motif, next page or next chapter. Cries of “within the blink of an eye//wiped off the face of the earth” speak too plainly, and loses some of its crescendoing effect - over dramatized in lieu of better songwriting. It’s a small gripe and fairly forgivable in a larger scale.
As the record continues the shift from the Mesozoic to the clear Cenozoic becomes less veiled. Tracks like “Oligocene” become poignant in their own time, relying less on the harsh realities of species destruction. The track itself is largely laid back, churning out repeating rhythms and swirling melody lines as memorable as the album’s earlier vocal hooks. As an introduction to “Miocene I Pliocene” its spacing allows the listener some breathing room, before re-injecting the soundscape with harsh vocals and brooding melodies. Despite Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
’s more energetic, primal beginnings it’s here that The Ocean’s newest effort hits its stride. Whether it’s the sensual cello accompaniment that swans around the back of “Pleistocene” or the synth heavy work that earmarks the album’s closing passages, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
comes together with a strong culmination of ideas. Even the vocal phrasing of “Holocene” closes the album’s life circle, mimicking the hypnotic edges that started this fifty-one minute display of progressive metal. It could be argued that The Ocean’s particular brand of post metal has become a modern expression of expansive musical motif. It’s a thought that’s not too far off the mark. Largely, The Ocean’s 2020 piece isn’t quite as impactful as Palaeozoic
, but it’s the more humble and expansive offering between the two. Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic
may not hit as hard as that meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, but it’s a worthy addition that continues The Ocean’s constant motion forwards.