Style: Symphonic Black Metal
Release Date: 8 May 2020
I remember ...and Oceans from the late nineties when I was exploring EMusic during its unlimited downloads period. They were a symphonic metal band at a time when there were a lot of such creatures but, unlike many of them, they continued to evolve their sound, so far that they ended up changing name to Havoc Unit to reflect just how far that sound had shifted into an industrial vein. In fact, ...and Oceans was a rename too, because they were previously a death metal band called Festerday. They returned to Festerday in 2013 and now are back to being ...and Oceans, at least for this album, their first under that name in eighteen years.
It's very mature material, highlighting that this return to an early phase in their musical development comes with newfound knowledge. I don't remember those earlier albums incredibly well, but I know that they didn't strike me either as quickly or as fully as this one did. Even on a first listen, this is clearly another strong step forward even during a stylistic look back.
A good part of the joy is in the mix, which is exactly right for this sound. It's a fast and heavy album for the most part, the drums galloping and the vocals blistering, but with neither ever too high in the mix. There's menace in the guitars, from the very beginning, but even at their most menacing, a constant attention to melody is evident. Everything is built in layers and a subtle synth layer that first becomes obvious on Vigilance and Atrophy, then builds with the album, emphasises those melodies.
Those layers add up to a wall of sound, as is so often the case in the black metal genre, and the result is sometimes a glorious cacophony, so much going on at the same time that, even though we delight in being bludgeoned by the melodies, we have to take a step back to fully appreciate what the band are doing. It's not as musically dense as, say, Fleshgod Apocalypse, but there are songs here where I found myself following half a dozen different things at once playing together in strange harmony. It's mature on Five of Swords, but most obvious in the beginning of The Flickering Lights, as it rolls into motion like an orchestra tuning up and evolving into a piece of actual music.
In Abhorrence upon Meadows is easily the most atypical track here, being an almost entirely solo piano piece, but there are hints of synth swell and an artificial aging is applied, along with a few sound effects. It's the most overt nod to steampunk, which shows up in quieter moments here and there. I shouldn't be too surprised. Even though this consistently exceeds the speed levels at which Victorians thought women might explode, there's also polite elegance, a quiet confidence and a pride in creation, all routine steampunk attributes. I wasn't expecting that on a Finnish black metal record.
What I was expecting was a lot more overt industrial and electronica touches but they're few and far between, showing up nicely on the title track and in the abrasion that kicks off Helminthiasis. Just because the band know how to use those sounds, it doesn't follow that they're all applicable here, but I thought this would be notably more of a merger of symphonic black metal with industrial than it is.
I'll be listening to this a lot more and doubt I'll figure out which tracks will abide as my favourites, but depths of the title track surely ensure it will be among them. Five of Swords, As the After Becomes the Before and the slightly calmer The Flickering Lights may follow, I believe, but there's so much here that I can imagine songs rising and falling in my esteem with the majesty of icebergs shearing off a host continent to be all the more overtly noticed.
I have no idea what this band will do next, whether they'll follow this up with more ...and Oceans material or whether they'll choose instead to revert back to Havoc Unit for a second time or even Festerday for a third. Whatever they end up doing, it's going to be interesting because they've never failed to move forward musically, whatever genre they happen to drift into.