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The Ocean – ‘Pelagial’ Year-End Review

If you’ve ever immersed yourself in the culture of heavy metal, you’ve likely discovered two things. The first is that the word “metal” means different things to different generations. If you’re over the age of forty, the metal bands you grew up with might have sounded like they were fronted by Elmo. If you’re in your twenties, then the metal you’re familiar with probably sounds like the brainchild of Cookie Monster.

The second thing you’ve likely discovered is that metal fans can be – how to put this lightly? – a closed-minded bunch. It seems sometimes that forward-thinking music, perhaps an album that represents a diversion from a band’s familiar style, is met with disdain from fans who wanted a repeat of the last album.

A strange singularity in the metal world is the multinational musical collective known as The Ocean. The band has made a career of writing layered, immersive and challenging music. With very few exceptions, their efforts have been rewarded with praise from critics and fans alike.

Their most recent album, Pelagial, was released earlier this year. With 2014 approaching, this is the perfect time to take another look at one of the best metal albums of 2013.

The word “Pelagial” is derived from the pelagic zone of the ocean, which is made up of several distinctive layers of increasing pressure and darkness. Musically, the album follows that pattern: the songs gradually become darker, denser and heavier as the album progresses. The lyrics also follow suit. Robin Staps, the band’s main songwriter, was inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, wherein a group of people are lead through a mysterious place known as “the zone,” which will supposedly fulfill their innermost desires.

Lyrically, Pelagial uses the layers of the ocean and its inspiration from the film to construct a sort of extended metaphor. As we progress through the layers of the ocean, and through the increasingly heavy music, we are guided deeper into the human psyche, and eventually to the source of human longing and ambition.

This is obviously intense subject matter, and in the hands of a less gifted wordsmith, the whole thing might fall to pieces. That said, The Ocean have proven to the metal community that they’re perfectly capable of combining ambitious and intellectual wordplay with utterly inventive and captivating music. At this point, the band could write a concept album about Ford Mustang parts and I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Even people who don’t typically enjoy metal should find a lot to enjoy on Pelagial. While lead singer Loïc Rossetti lends his growled vocals to the more emotionally intense moments throughout the album, relief is never far off, thanks to a number of cleanly sung passages, soothing piano interludes and borderline atmospheric instrumental sections.

Clearly, this is an album from a band that loves to take risks. Metal fans everywhere should rejoice in The Ocean’s ability to innovate and mature as musicians without leaving their existing fans behind.

Indeed, the best metal bands are those that are able to step outside of their comfort zone and create something new and unique, without forsaking the core of their identities as musicians. With that, The Ocean is the embodiment of everything that modern metal should strive to be.

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