Founded 20 years ago in Germany by guitarist Robin Staps, The Ocean Collective exhibits constant evolution. Staps and company use Neurosis-style post-metal, Katatonia's depressive prog, and Gojira's imaginative brutality to form concept albums spanning paleontology, oceanology, and astronomy. The Ocean redoubled its pursuits with Phanerozoic, a two-part musical journey through Earth’s ongoing geological eon. The first installment, Palaeozoic (2018), started at the Cambrian Explosion and left off at the pre-Triassic extinction event. This leaves Mesozoic | Cenozoic to cover the dawn of the Dinosaurs up to, well, now! Like its predecessor, Mesozoic | Cenozoic uses kaleidoscopic heaviness to relate the human condition to a 541-million-year cosmic tragedy.
In line with the fact that Mesozoic | Cenozoic centers on events between those covered in 2007’s Precambrian and 2010’s Heliocentric, the album's first two tracks balance the former’s heavier side and the latter’s soulful melancholy. To that effect, “Triassic” evokes a prehistoric desert with Staps and bassist Mattias Hägerstrand’s Middle Eastern motif. Loïc Rossetti’s trancy singing and Paul Seidel’s tribal rhythms commingle with sci-fi synths, building to savage sludge metal explosions. The Ocean effortlessly contrasts atmospheric soundscapes and moody melodies with crushing riffs and savage screams.
The Ocean’s dynamic range only gains momentum on the 13-and-a-half-minute “Jurassic | Cretaceous.” Katatonia singer Jonas Renkse returns to embellish the song's beautiful meditations while blaring brass and Peter Voigtmann’s Baroque piano add a symphonic touch to the bulldozing chugs from Staps and guitarist David Åhfeldt. While heavier and more unorthodox than anything on Phanerozoic, the song's evocative, transcendental musicality services a potent lyrical thrust. The song's devastating chorus makes a harrowing comparison between the extinction of the Dinosaurs and the fragility of human civilization: “We are like reptiles/ Giant rulers of the world/ Within the blink of an eye/ Wiped off the face of the earth.”
As the album transitions from the Mesozoic (the era of dinosaurs) to Cenozoic (the era of mammals), The Ocean presents the Phanerozoic Eon as a cataclysmic cycle of extinction events. The urgent chorus line of “Palaeocene,” “Walk away from the past that was never there,” carries a lot more weight, considering how a giant meteor literally blew the past off the map. The song contrasts urgent tempo shifts and electrifying guitar leads with Dalai Theofilopoulou’s elegiac cello commingling with Hägerstrand’s melodic bass licks. Within this headspace of existential dread, The Ocean’s sonic palette is more diverse than ever.
While certainly unpredictable, these songs ooze infectious hooks. “Eocene” centers on clean singing, but that in no way diminishes its progressive structure. Guitar and vocal melodies weave through meticulous percussion and bass syncopation, as Rossetti works in vocal melodies as complex as they are memorable. The Ocean’s inventive catchiness presents the instrumental cut “Oligocene” from lapsing into filler. As Seidel lays down a detailed groove over some pristine guitar textures and keyboard patches, the song remains engaging as it allows some breathing room for rumination on the album’s heady themes.
The Ocean imbues its accessible ideas with a limitless compositional approach. “Miocene | Pliocene” flips the usual metal script, with screams in the slow-burning verses and melodic singing bolstering the triumphant chorus. The song’s culmination recalls Koi No Yokan-era Deftones, made more idiosyncratic with an expanded vocal range and numerous sonic layers. “Pleistocene” maximizes this adventurousness through its seamless beat switches and suspenseful chord progressions. The song’s plodding low-end reaches a breathtaking summit of black metal rasps, surging blast beats, and tremolo guitar lines.
“Holocene” settles the album in Earth’s current geological epoch with an airtight beat and a hypnotic dreamscape. Amid interstellar synth drones, legato strings, and winding bass lines, the album's parting words resonate all the more. Rossetti's sultry vocal timbre closes Mesozoic | Cenozoic with its opening lines: “You undermine our mutual resolution strategy/ With your condescending patronizing habitus of false modesty.” Inviting a bird's eye view of the planet’s evolution, the band bemoans humanity’s continued ignorance as a mere blip on a planet hurtling from one apocalypse to another. The Ocean's addictive, immersive groove carries the cruel irony of human arrogance in an epoch that emerged from the Ice Age and will end in—don't be scared… deduce it for yourself.
The Ocean’s ferocity, adventurousness, and melodiousness make Mesozoic | Cenozoic more than worthy as the second half of the Phanerozoic dualogy. With a sound as vast as its theme entails, the album's eon-trotting canvas overflows with sweeping dynamics, gut-punching heaviness and passionate songwriting. The Ocean has once again proven its artistic longevity and conceptual vitality.