02. Mesopelagic: Into The Uncanny
03. Bathyalpelagic I: Impasses
04. Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish In Dreams
05. Bathyalpelagic III: Disequillibriated
06. Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts
07. Abyssopelagic II: Signals Of Anxiety
08. Hadopelagic I: Omen Of The Deep
09. Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe
10. Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance
11. Benthic: The Origin Of Our Wishes
Never let it be said that I don’t suffer for my art. Here I am, attempting to measure my view of The Ocean‘s Pelagial as an instrumental entity, with the knowledge that the vocal version is sat just a click or two away on my hard drive. To keep this review as pure as possible, I haven’t listened to the vocal version at all yet. And it is taunting me.
Despite this Herculean display of self-control, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the very existence of the ‘other’ Pelagial would influence my view of this version. The band has previous form with this dual-release format. Fans who reached deep into their wallets for the special edition Heliocentric/Anthropocentric box set were rewarded with complete instrumental versions of both albums.
I did that myself, and whilst listening to the vocal-less versions was a delight, my brain couldn’t help filling in the blanks, so I was certainly keen to experiment with the process in reverse.
We certainly shouldn’t forget that the album was conceived as an instrumental journey – or, more appropriately, voyage – to the bottom of the sea, conceived at least in part through concerns over the on-going health of singer Loïc Rossetti’s voice. Whoever it was that said necessity is the mother of invention was really on to something. Either way, this version was all but complete before Loïc had sung a note. Whether his contribution feels like an afterthought is a matter for my eminent colleague who is reviewing the vocal version.
The band have not been afraid of tackling weighty themes, with the geological ers informing Pre-Cambrian, and taking the very (non)existence of God as the concept for the -centric albums – but even if that last theme spanned two albums, Pelagial’s conception as a single 50+ minute piece of music makes it their most ambitious.
But lets cut to the chase. Pelagial is a bona fide masterpiece. The band may well have set themselves a lofty target in the concept of this album, but it is one they have reached with ease and grace.
What is particularly remarkable is how well the concept works without vocals driving the narrative. Any concerns I may have had going in about feeling the absence of those vocals melted away through my first listen.
Yes, the album starts with a twinkling lightness of touch, and ends deep in the clutches of apocalyptic sludge, but it is far from a straight-line trajectory, the first crushing low notes come at the end of nominal second track “Mesopelagic: Into The Uncanny“ as a hint of what is to come, and light/shade dynamism features throughout.
Themes recur throughout the record, which rams home the point that this really is one complete entity rather than a loose collection of tunes. I’m not usually that interested in production techniques, but the rather brave move to mix the entire piece as a single, gargantuan track really helps with the continuity of the experience.
The Ocean often bolster their sound with additional instrumentation, and it is almost surprising how sparingly these extra colours have been deployed here – but that restraint, in turn, only serves to heighten their impact; a mournful cello snakes between the guitar lines in “Abyssopeliagic 1: Boundless Vasts” and an organ bolsters the claustrophobic density in penultimate track “Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance“.
Sonically, The Ocean really found their own voice on the -centric albums, and Pelagial continues that progression. With these tracks, the band have applied this sound to the kind of instrumental songwriting previously seen on the Fogdiver EP, Fluxion‘s title track and Pre-Cambrian‘s “Statherian“.
Whilst the latter stages of the album are undoubtedly heavier than the -centrics, it is worth noting that this does not constitute a return to the brute-force grunt of the Aeolian/Pre-Cambrian era. This may disappoint some, but it seems to me that particular brand of heavy is a thing of the past for them now.
As I write these words, I have listened to the album seven times, and each time, the thought of hitting ‘pause’ or ‘skip’ simply hasn’t entered my head. There is exactly one riff I’m not all that keen on – an odd, almost quacking passage in “Bathyalpelagic III: Disequillibrated” – but it doesn’t last for long.
This is an arresting, enveloping album that demands to be taken as a whole. When you get your copy – yes, that’s ‘when’ and not ‘if’ – you’re going to want to clear an hour in your diary, lock the door and turn off your phone. You’re not going to welcome interruptions.
Now, more than ever, they are confounding the notion that attention spans are getting shorter, and high-mindedness is a thing of the past. If you follow up on all the references they make, listening to The Ocean will make you a smarter person. We need more bands like this, and with any luck, Pelagial will inspire a whole new generation of them.
The bottom line is simple – if you have even a passing interest in progressive, intelligent metal, you need this album in your life. No exceptions. The only slight concern I have now is how on earth they are going to top this next time – but I’m sure they’ll think of something.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some vocals to listen to.
Make sure to check back all week for TONNES of Ocean Week content, and check the section below on every article for what we’ve done so far.
The Ocean Week content so far: