8th July 2014
Review by Kate Prothero
Photography by Mat Dale & Kate Prothero
Ahead of their set at this years Tech Fest, German band The Ocean kick of their run of UK dates on a rainy Tuesday in Leeds. Around 5pm, I get a text from the bands founding member Robin Staps, saying they’ve had a few issues with the van and immigration, so the interview may have to be later on.
The bands last show had been at With Full Force Festival in Germany on Sunday and they had been travelling for 36 hours straight before they finally arrived, slightly frazzled and frantic. I’ve been aware of The Ocean for a while, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan, but know enough about them and their ethos to be intrigued and slightly in awe. It is safe to say that their fans are dedicated, occasionally obsessive and incredibly loyal.
Their sound is a melting pot of prog, tech, metal, hardcore and more recently, tinged with classical sensibilities. Their most recent offering is a concept album called ‘Pelagial‘, undoubtably a masterpiece, the band have toured and promoted it relentlessly, they have garnered a reputation as one of the most hard working bands on the world circuit as well as a band that have huge integrity and vision. The band is the brain child and labour of love of guitar player Robin Staps, in the 13 years since the bands inception they have had over 50 members.
Every aspect of what they do is intense and constructed with absolute precision.
With my interview now set to take place later in the evening, I grab a beer and manage catch the only support act of the night, local Leeds band Hieroglygh. They are a six piece progressive metal outfit, who tonight struggle to fit on the relatively small stage. Their sound is large and technical. Am not usually a fan of dual vocals, but the opposing male/female approach is done well, and with a bit more time and experience can see them developing into something really interesting. The songs they play are beautifully produced, and well thought out. There are some fairly obvious comparisons to bands like Tesseract and Cult of Luna in there, but they are tight and technically flawless and am sure in time they will develop the confidence to take more musical risks. In all, a great band with bags of potential.
With the night running behind, The Ocean hurriedly take to the stage. The lights dim and the venue is bathed in darkness. The atmosphere is tense and quiet. As the first notes of ‘Pelagial’ ring out, the venue glows an eerie blue and The Ocean instantly have the audience there with them, in the moment and mesmerised. The concept of the album is based upon the varying depths of the ocean, with each ‘movement’ attempting to musically create a different atmosphere.
The stunning visuals and light show certainly help to create a unique mood, almost like being in a planetarium. With very little communication between the audience and the band, it doesn’t really feel like a standard metal show at all. I’m so used to the on stage banter and audience jeers and cheers, that it takes a while to understand that The Ocean are just not that kind of band. It is serious music for serious people, intense, dark and moody.
As they continue to play ‘Pelagial’ in its entirety, I find myself completely swept up in a way that I hadn’t expected. The album is written and produced in such a way that it really does take you on a journey, it’s almost difficult to remember that the five men up on the stage are creating that sound. Halfway through their set I notice that nobody is moving, literally everyone there is stuck to the floor and I start to wonder if the music is in fact hypnotising people, have they managed to create something so powerful and on such a level that it renders the listener immobile? Then, as the last few tracks from the album kick in, the spell is broken and people let go.
The band appear to be on fire, they play with every fibre available. The vocalist, Loic Rossetti, spends large patches on the floor or kneeling, as if praying at some fabulous alter. The music becomes groovy and raw, as opposed to pristine and gentle, like listening to and watching a classical music concert but with crushing guitars and sweaty beards. And then its over.
The audience are left exhilarated, the band appear grateful and slightly shocked at the adulation as they leave the stage. As the lights come up, there is a rush to the merch table with fans clamouring to buy the vast array of t-shirts, cd’s and extensive vinyl available.
They are challenging old concepts and are unafraid to push boundaries both creatively and in terms of performance.
The response to ‘Pelagial’ has been mixed in the press, with some people not quite ready for it, I would say – reserve your judgement until you have experienced it in a live setting, it is a truly magical experience.