Tuesday 26 March 2019

Monocluster - Ocean (2019)

Country: Germany
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 7 Mar 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website

As the second half of my birthday present to myself, how about an album that has been recently shared on the Stoned Meadow of Doom YouTube channel, which is frankly mandatory for any serious explorers of stoner rock and metal. And, given that we spent all of yesterday on a virtual trip to Finland, let's stay in Germany today for Monocluster.

Monocluster are a power trio who describe their music as "stoner psychedelic death blues" and that sounds about as far up my alley as it's possible to get. The album is comprised of five lengthy trips, ranging from nine minutes to almost thirteen, so there's plenty of time for exploration and that's an appropriate word to use. Each track is a self-contained journey engaging on first listen but deserving of repeat visits.

They're from Cologne, three hours from the North Sea and a lot further from the Atlantic, whichever way they dance around the UK, so I'm unsure why the ocean is in their bones. However, like that ocean, there's a constant sense of motion here and an underlying power that's always there, even when it's not remotely interested in demonstrating just powerful it can be. It knows that we know and it does what it does safe in that knowledge. It's no show-off.

Oddly, because I adore to be bludgeoned by epochal riffs, what I like about this album most is the peace and patience of the quieter sections. Leviathan is a particularly peaceful but playful track, hardly the take I expected on the beast in the evocative cover art. The vocals are structured like a blues song, which is a strange thing to hear on a song like this but a welcome one. Like the ocean, the leviathan isn't to be messed with, but that doesn't mean it doesn't want to play.

There are epochal riffs here, so don't panic. We get those five minutes into Guns and Greed, which has an especially thoughtful vocal line. It's patient to begin with but it gets angry. There's some real vitriol when Chris spits, "Everyone is guilty and the game is rigged" and the riffs crash over us like tidal waves. A few minutes more and we could be in the middle of The War of the Worlds. However, there are far fewer epochal riffs than I expected. Ocean in Our Bones has some too, by the way, but in a different way. It feels like we're navigating the depths and the music plays like a sort of sonar, bouncing back at us off vast underground structures.

I should highlight those vocals, as few of them as there actually are in the grand scheme of Ocean. Records like this are often instrumental nowadays and this one has long instrumental stretches that sometimes make us forget that we ever heard a human voice. However, the vocals are no afterthought. Chris may do a lot more with his bass than his voice here, and just check out his patient bass on A Place Beyond as Jan's guitars and Ewald's cymbals build to a crescendo around him, but he gave just as much care and attention to his vocals and it's appreciated.

If A Place Beyond takes us out there, wherever there might be, Home brings us, well, home again to wrap up the album. It's hardly the expected return though and I wonder how to take it. If there's a sweep to the album in tone or message, it's a dark one. Our planet isn't a nice place and it's doomed, because of the actions of human beings. Some of this message feels like it's environmental in nature but much more of it is about the military industrial complex. War is coming. Everything will burn. We'll all die. So, why are we coming home? Why not stay out there on the ocean, which is in our bones, and play with the beasts of the depths? Maybe we have to come home because it's in our nature and the ocean will claim everything eventually anyway.

I like this and it's powerful stuff that I'll happily recommend, even if the definition of "powerful" here is hypnotic peace far more than it is crushing emphasis. That aids the journey, I think. And it really is a journey, maybe one that's cyclical until we decide to change it. Ocean is definitely one of those headphones in the dark at three in the morning albums and I very much look forward to exploring it further. I can easily see my rating going up.

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