Oh yes, metalheads. It’s time for another album from progressive metalists The Ocean. Pelagial takes on a nautical theme for the artwork and lyrics, which is something that seems to be incredibly popular in metal lately (see: Parkway Drive‘s Deep Blue, and Soilwork‘s The Living Infinite). The Ocean seem to have a pretty big fan base – one that has been able to keep them going for more than 10 years, so it’s safe to say that it’s one of the most anticipated metal albums of 2013.
Pelagial has a pretty fleshed-out nautical theme – and this comes across in a variety of ways, including the covert art and album artwork in general (which seems pretty appropriate for a band named…well, The Ocean) lyrics, and even the production. Let’s talk about vocals first – harsh vocals aren’t used nearly as much on Pelagial as they’re used on, say, 2005’s Aoelian (my personal favorite album of theirs). I did miss the harsh vocals at times, because even though they didn’t disappear completely from the album (e,g, the track “Bathyalpelagic III: Disequillibrated” shows great use of them) I just couldn’t shake the feeling that they were missing from some parts. Certain sections in songs, when things seem to be picking up for example, could have benefited from that extra “oomph” that some harsh vocals would have provided. Instead, clean vocals, or none at all, are used, and you’re left feeling a bit empty. The clean vocals themselves are remarkable, Mr. Rossetti sounds great on Pelagial, making it his best performance since he took over the reigns of vocalist for the band. The guitar tones are great, and drums are layered neatly underneath so that you can still hear and appreciate them, while not being overpowering.
The album itself? Well…it’s a little bit all over the place. While the album presents itself as an epic progressive metal release (which is what you’d expect from The Ocean) the reality is they’re too few memorable moments on Pelagial for you to completely immerse yourself in. Some songs tend to blend together in a very unsatisfying way, blending with each other without many qualities to differentiate themselves, so that your first two or three listens might be a blur. If you listen to this album a lot (my iTunes play count reads nine!) you’ll be able to pick out cool and interesting parts, especially with the guitars; Interesting chord progressions and background melodies are your reward if you pay close attention; Drumming is good too, although it feels a little lethargic when compared to the guitars.
Perhaps it’s just the direction that The Ocean took themselves on this album, but it sounds a bit more “laid back” than their previous releases. As a result of this, for example, the track “Abyssopelagic II: Signals of Anxiety”, which is meant to be a slow-burn type of song that eventually builds into a nice chorus and vocal section, actually comes off as a song that mostly just bores you for five minutes. Really, this is a problem that pops up again and again on Pelagial, as certain sections of songs will sound great, and then a minute later you’ll just want to hit the skip button and see if the next track is any different. Basically, Pelagial is kind of like an overpaid star sports player on your favorite team (whether it be hockey/football/basketball/soccer) who only shows up every three games or so and that makes you wonder “Why can’t he be this awesome all the time?“. I find myself asking a similar question while listening to this album, as the truly great moments are there, but unfortunately they are only few and far between.
That said, the production on this album is definitely one of the bright spots. Pelagial has a certain feel to it – almost organic (which is apparently either hard to do these days, or no one wants to do it) which definitely helps fit into it’s overall themes. My only complaint with this aspect is that the overall volume tends to be a bit on the low side – I had to crank it up more than I usually do for most albums. With headphones it’s not a problem, but I could see a few people having complaints about it if they prefer to listen to their albums on nice speakers, for example.
I really, really wanted to like Pelagial more than I did, but in the end I stand by my opinion (and that’s all that reviews are, remember) that it’s just too scatter-shot. Songs that blend together and fail to keep your interest are never a good sign. The great moments on this album get your hopes up every time, but the are just not enough of them here.