So last Thursday I had the privilege of seeing Germany’s The Ocean Collective live at the Glass House in Pomona, CA and let me tell you, despite their short set as opening band in a four-band lineup they were, in a word, awesome.
The lineup for the evening was The Ocean, Cephalic Carnage (who we missed altogether when we had stepped out to the trunk of my friend Tori’s car to drink, as The Glass House is an all-ages and thus, no-booze venue), Job For a Cowboy and headliners Between the Buried and Me, a band that I had never heard before but was so impressed with I’m sure I’ll be dedicating a future blog to.
We arrived early enough to have a few beers in the parking lot and then make it in in time to see The Ocean. Leaning heavily in favor of the second of their two albums from 2010, Anthropocentric the group absolutely crushed live, the heavy power sonics anyone familiar with their albums has come to expect translating perfectly into a live environment. However, before I go any further with the live review, let’s talk about those albums, shall we? as I believe I never did devote a full blog to them after their releases.
In Spring 2010 The Ocean released Heliocentric, the first part of a sprawlingly ambitious pair of concept albums geared at discussing and critiquing humanity’s world views, from the rise of Heliocentrism with Galileo and Copernicus on through the beginning of Christianity and, later on sister album Anthropocentric (released in the fall), Creationism. Taken apart from one anotherthe albums are fantastic pieces of work, equal parts the crushing, anthropomorphic orchestral metal of previous albums by the band (especially 2009’s Pre-Cambrian) and vocal-driven melodic metal a la Deftones or Faith No More. Recruitment of a new singer, Loïc Rossetti, really added a depth to the band’s sound and nowhere is it more apparent than on Heliocentric, with two soulful mostly vocal-and-piano pieces, ‘Epiphany’ and ‘Ptolemy Was Wrong’. Anthropocentric comes in a bit on the heavier side, picking up where its sister album drops the listener, at the beat-your-head-against-the-wall of pondering the creation of the architect responsible for the existence of the Universe. A vocal theme runs the length of the album, the repeating idea that ‘You are trying to save me but perhaps I am not lost’. This ties everything together nicely, as the album moves into a fact-for-fact critique of Creationism and its… theories. One of the things I was most interested to see about The Ocean live was how these songs would translate, as on the albums a lot of the songs have very intricate orchestration; strings, saxophone, piano, etc.
The group came out to the gathering winds of the opening ‘prelude’ track off Heliocentric, ‘Shamayim’ but instead of taking the album transition into ‘Firmament’ they instead tore into the opener off the second album, the title track, ‘Anthropocentric’. As the short set progressed all of the material except (if I remember correctly) one song was from the double albums, and the orchestration, when appropriate was pre-recorded, so that drummer Luc Hess played with a pair of headphones on so as to keep the rest of the guys in time with the accompaniment tracks. A lot of people critique groups for this, but when you figure these five guys (or maybe six, as the band played before a massive video screen that cycled through a set-long number of video accompaniments, and the group has always considered visual artist Nils Lindenhayn one of the Collective, so he may have been there running the video) came from Germany to tour the US as the opener on a four-band package – while their label Metal Blade surly covered the costs of the actual touring expenses (but will no doubt claim reimbursement from sales) you know these guys aren’t making anything other than what they can from their merch sales while on the road and the idea that they would be able to support bringing any other musicians on the road with them is asinine. There’s always the option of re-working the songs for a live format sans those accompaniment tracks, but really, in this day and age, with the technology available, why should anyone truncate their sound for the code of a few purists? And besides, accompaniment is exactly that – accompaniment – and the real gist of the group’s sound is focused around the meat-and-potatoes song structures, largely written by founding guitarist Robin Straps and hewn into mighty being by Hess, bass player Louis Jucker, guitarist Jona Nido and now topped with the often serene and contemplative, often punishingly powerful vocals of Rossetti (and again, the amazing visuals of Lindenhayn).
Straps introduced the final song(s) of the set, the twin album closers on Heliocentric, ‘The Origin of the Species’ and ‘The Origin of God’ (essentially two movements of one song) as being about Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and how some people still doubt its existence and in that moment and as the final refrains of the song heard Rossetti ponder “Who made your architect? Where does he come from? What is he made of?”* I realized what exactly it is that I love so much about this band, besides of course the music itself. Music serves a lot of different purposes in our lives; different kinds of music do different things to our brains and bodies. When I think of all the music I really like, regardless of how great it is or how much I like it, there is simply not a lot of music that feels important. The Ocean, over the course of five proper studio albums now has undertaken an ambitious chronicling of the existence of not only humanity but our beloved Mother Earth** and they do so in a way that is so unique, literate and all-encompassing (even their packaging is amazing and a part of the theme) that the more I get into them the more The Ocean’s music feels important, and that’s a pretty cool feeling to get from music that also kicks some serious ass (and especially when it translate that way live).
I seriously feel that within a few years these guys will, culturally speaking, be the next Tool – you know, that cool, enigmatic and intelligent metal band that everyone refers to as the ‘musician’s metal band’. If you dig any of this, buy some albums – let’s get them back to the states on a headlining tour. Music like this deserves to be heard. Check out the video below, from a few dates before the one I saw on the tour. Video is lagging but the sound quality is fantastic!!!
* Lyrics obviously belong to the band, reprinted here for worship and effect.
** Wikipedia them and see how some of their album names tend to be geological eras of the planet. With 2009’s Precambrian they finished with their musical mapping of the aeons before mankind and Heliocentric and Anthropocentric chronicle man’s development (or lack there of) through the ages.