Holocene by The OceanRelease date: May 12, 2023
Label: Palegic Records
For over 21 years The Ocean has been producing music much in the same way, with the genesis of songs and albums coming from band mainstay Robin Staps moving from riff or pattern to full songs. During lockdown synth player Peter Voigtmann brought electronic ideas to Staps who built on them to produce album number ten, Holocene. The resulting eight tracks are some of the most varied and experimental The Ocean has conjured up since Fogdiver and Fluxion. The result is refreshingly diverse and has moments of absolute beauty which give the heavy edges a far greater impact.
After the high of Pelagial I was drifting back more to the early The Ocean material but Holocene has certainly piqued my interest once again. The opening trio of ‘Preboreal’, ‘Boreal’ and ‘Sea of Reeds’ floats in this new synth lead design. It is a departure from recent outings as the sounds are, at times, lighter and overtly synth based but there is still an Ocean feel, especially with the lyrical athletics of Loïc apparent throughout. The idea that you can achieve heaviness without overtly heavy riffs is demonstrated superbly well in ‘Preboreal’. The song slowly crescendos to a climax of vocals, guitar, synth and brass which provides a memorable rousing ending and this easing off from the Ocean really has allowed a new flavour of heaviness to come through and.
There are still plenty of moments where the band lets the guitars rise to the surface and rip through the synths. The later parts of ‘Atlantic’, the majority of ‘Subboreal’ and moments of ‘Subatlantic’ go to a more guitar driven feeling but even these feel positively different. By building on the synth work the band attacks everything from another angle and the riffs come across as more ingrained with the surrounding music, using the sum of its parts and it creates a wonderfully varied album.
My absolute highlight is the spellbinding ‘Unconformities’ which features the stunning vocals of Karin Park on top of a wonderful guitar driven beat before switching half way for Loïc and Staps to bring the song to a hammering end. It is one of the many moments that draws me back in the history of the band and it does feel that the melding of synth and guitar writing has produced a more connected band with a freshness in the heaviness it produces.
While Holocene acts as an appendix to the Phanerozoic albums, as it dives deeper into the last 11,700ish years, it avoids being overtly angry at the current state of the world. As much as the album was unplanned, the delivery has really sparked an invigorating love of the early Ocean experimentation as well as pulling me back to its heavier moments. I can imagine this album will have its critics but it’s something I have been longing for and it will be interesting to see where they go next.