Defined as "living in or related to open oceans rather than inland waters," the term "pelagial" conveys a certain poeticism. Having titled their newest album after the term, as well as structuring it as a single conceptual entity broken into chapters, German progressive metal quintet The Ocean clearly presents lofty objectives and a grand vision with this record. Although there are some interesting dynamic changes and a strong sense of storytelling and epic scale, the record fails to offer anything especially new or varied when considered in relation to the genre as a whole. For the most part, it sounds familiar and generic.
The Ocean was formed in 2002 by guitarist Robin Staps (who is the only member in the group's history to have played on every release). Over the years, they've toured with many of their more talented peers, including Devin Townsend, Anathema, Opeth, and Isis. As you'd expect, they promote Pelagial as their best record yet, adding that its concept revolves around the differences amongst its central five chapters— Epipelagic, Mesopelagic, Bathyalpelagic, Abyssopelagic, and Hadopelagic. They claim that "listeners will be further submersed…beginning at the surface of the ocean and plunging through all five pelagic depth zones…" as the album "begins rather light and progressively gets heavier." Finally, they claim that these ideas can literally be heard and felt; they aren't just gimmicks. Like with Jolly's ambition of sparking real joy with their The Audio Guide to Happiness albums, these assertions are somewhat suspect. What listeners are truly treated (or subjected) to are run-of-the-mill metal antics with only an occasional glimpse of variation, emotion, or intrigue.
The record starts of nicely enough with "Epipelagic," a brief instrumental consisting of a piano concerto mixed with strings and water sounds. It's simple but serene. From there, The Ocean show some promise with "Mesopelagic: The Uncanny," which is mostly a pleasant alt rock track with heightened production and growling towards the end. The rest of the album follows suit, alternating between common death metal techniques and lighter tricks. Tracks such as "Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams "and "Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts "feature guitar trickery and melodic shifts that, to be blunt, Between the Buried and Me do much better (the latter also features some nice orchestration, which helps it stand out a bit). Elsewhere, "Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe" contains a very enjoyable instrumental break; it's probably the highlight of Pelagial.
There's definitely an earnest attempt at innovation and conceptual weight here, as the transitions and stylistic changes (when they happen) make Pelagial feel both colossal and thoughtfully constructed. However, that doesn't make up for the fact that the foundation of The Ocean is too general and colorless. In a nutshell, they sound like a composite of better bands, which means that their music would be a lot more remarkable if it wasn't already being made.
Note: Pelagial is also available as an instrumental album, so obviously your preference will depend on how much you like or dislike the growling and clean vocals. Considering how they alternate seamlessly and give the record some of its more intriguing passages, the version with vocals is definitely more worthwhile.
2. Mesopelagic: The Uncanny
3. Bathyalpelagic I: Impasses
4. Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams
5. Bathyalpelagic III: Disequillibrated
6. Abyssopelagic I: Boundless Vasts
7. Abyssopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety
8. Hadopelagic I: Omen of the Deep
9. Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe
10. Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance
11. Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes