Sound — 7
Often hailed as leaders in "post-metal", that most poorly defined and frequently discussed of styles, arty Germans The Ocean are quite keen on big projects and ambitious concept albums. "Pelagial" joins the ranks as a journey through the layers of the ocean the music getting darker and murkier as we adventure down to the bottom. Cool, huh? They have a track record of forging interesting ideas out of really boring premises - see previous releases "Anthropocentric" (the movement of the planets) and "Precambrian" (rocks) and this is arguably the most fully realised concept yet. In this case the "light" means noodling, drum fills and schizophrenic structuring in the style of tourmates Between The Buried And Me, chopping and changing almost at random and commanding a great deal of attention in the process. It seems silly to call something so manic, aggressive and technically demanding as "light" but tightly wound as these sections are they seem a little thin on meaningful content. It's only as we get deeper that this album starts to show its better self. "Abyssopelagic" widens the scope considerably with the first half's boldly melodic lead guitar and the second's delicate stretching of a theme and after that we get to what The Ocean do best: thick, bassy riffing with more gusto than BTBAM and less pretence than Isis or their other supposed contemporaries. Some of the closing moments of "Benthic: The Origin Of Our Wishes", where the drop-tuned thunder is compounded by the lead work from earlier, are absolutely divine.
Lyrics — 6
The album was originally intended to be instrumental. Vocalist Loc Rossetti was battling health problems during production and the band originally saw the concept as one that ought to be wordless - they didn't want to "sing about battles between sperm whales and giant squids", as guitarist Robin Stap eloquently put it. But they found a way to make it work, and Rossetti contributes his fair share across the album. His melodic wail is perhaps not so cerebral as everything else that's going on but that aids accessibility and without his contribution some of the drama would be lost in translation see "Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish In Dreams". The lyrics themselves are stuffy as ever and it would take either a science PhD or a helpfully-worded press release to decipher them. Unfortunately neither will be readily available to the majority of listeners. The instrumental disc is being released alongside the final version, and allows passionate fans to hear in more detail some of the performance and production tricks that kept the wheels turning. It is, however, rather boring if you're not interested in the technical aspects.
Overall Impression — 7
The downward movement, from fresh and airy to tough and uncompromising, is intriguing to track but with the strongest material almost entirely saved for the end, it is curious that The Ocean chose to go from top to bottom here, rather than starting in darkness and eventually bursting forth into fresh air. That could have helped "Pelagial" hit the next level and move well beyond any of their previous material, but as is, it sits comfortably alongside the other releases of a half-decent, above average band who haven't quite met their ambitions. Not yet.