Sound — 3
Even though there are more than plenty of people that would pay money to have the fusion metal style of deathcore wiped clean from the earth, time has shown that the niche subgenre isn't going to die out like disco. It's become its own biome in the music world, essentially being upheld as a counter-culture response to the majority of today's metalcore walking further towards accessibility (then again, bigger deathcore names have shown the same progression; *cough* Suicide Silence *cough*). And even if the scene seems way too obsessed with vocals and logos that are frustratingly tough to decipher, it's not the universal scourge some may paint it out to be. With that being said, deathcore's calling card of brutal sound is a catch-22; sure, they may strive for the heaviest and most unforgiving sound, but it's because of this that deathcore bands don't age well (of course with some exceptions, like Carnifex, or the surprising improvement heard in Chelsea Grin's latest album).
Oceano, who came into the deathcore scene around the same time as plenty other of their kin, have the same problem to deal with now that they've been around the block a few times. Though their 2009 debut album, "Depths," was full of the deathcore requisites (gruesome guitars, whirlwind drumming power, the most guttural of vocal performances, etc.), it also invested a fair amount in melody - most noticeably in the eponymous progressive metal track - in order to keep the album from being lopsided noise. Their follow-up album a year later, "Contagion," would fill the same mold and land the band higher up in the charts, but Oceano knew they couldn't repeat the exact same thing if they were to continue. They would double-down on discordance in their third album, "Incisions," substituting more structured riffs and melodies for slogging death chords, and ultimately suffering from being... well, lopsided noise.
Now, with their fourth album, "Ascendants," very little progress is shown from Oceano, sonically. With the majority of the album being sculpted as a hodgepodge of par-for-the-course extreme metal riffs - from fleeting fits of blastbeat and tremolo to sludgy chugging breakdown that only parlay into sludgier chugging breakdowns - few new tricks are bestowed on the album. The most noticeable of these tricks are breakdowns that employ polyrhythmics - whether it be the irrationally-spaced chugs in "Transient Gateways" and "Arc of Creation," or the wavering double-bass pedaling in "The Taken" - and while it does inject some variance into the ever-so-saturated breakdown sections, these technical endeavors here are, overall, scratching the surface. Early impressions also lead one to believe that there'll be expansion upon guitar acrobatics, when the ending of "Transient Gateways" shows off some guitar arpeggios, but alas, that's the only case of such.
At large, melodic elements are even fainter in "Ascendants" than they were in "Incisions": dark synths provide thin and meager layers of doomy atmosphere, and there's no designated progressive metal instrumental track like in their other albums - though to be fair, that move was starting to become a token more than anything. Though this further fading of melody is likely in the interest to make the sound of "Ascendants" an exclusively brutal and unforgiving force, its one-dimensional dissonance and lack of melodic distinction render the album's span as homogenous and unengaging.
Lyrics — 7
Matching the unrelenting sound, Oceano's lyrics have always been rooted in the most extreme of hopeless and grotesque portrayals; though the exclusive harping of violence, disease and gore has often landed them in the pits of comically overwrought and tedious (one can only write so much about torturing people, as seen in the diminished returns of "Incisions"). In response to that issue, "Ascendants" shows some much needed expansion in the band's lyrical scope. Though in some cases, they're still drawing from the well of horrific scenarios - like the scene of anarchy depicted in "Dawn of Descent," the otherworldly destruction of the planet in "Dead Planet," and the detailing of being subject to gruesome experiments in "The Taken" (all of which are topics Oceano has written about before) - the new penchant the band has is writing about aliens. "The Dulce Incident" draws upon the elusive event of the same name decades ago, where the U.S. military allegedly stumbled upon an underground base belonging to aliens, leading to a firefight that left dozens of casualties. "Arc of Creation" is about the unbelievable capabilities that aliens have in being able to replicate any of Earth's biological life forms, and even more refreshingly un-negative than that is "Transient Gateways," which, akin to the "Mass Effect" series, poses the extraterrestrial moral conundrum to the listener, "would you remain light years away if you could warn an alien race of a shortened existence?," which certainly makes for a more interesting message than more variations of the band screaming about blood and entrails.
Overall Impression — 3
Heaviness in sound can only be a calling card for a band or subgenre for so long before it becomes creative stagnancy, and there's very little that makes "Ascendants" feel like new music, both in terms of Oceano's catalog and deathcore at large. The further minimalizing of melody and defined riffs may have been in attempt to make the album Oceano's heaviest one yet, but this method of songwriting feels nothing more than a disorganized dim sum of deathcore red meat that metalheads are already familiar with, and it hamstrings the album's intrigue and replay value more than anything else.