The evolution of …and Oceans from an excellent but fairly standard symphonic and melodic black metal band in the late 90s to a group incorporating plenty of industrial and avant-garde influences was not entirely unlikely for the age. The period of “post-black metal” (in the 90s sense of the term, not the shoegazing stuff) provided some truly daring records – just spend a year exploring the Ved Buens Ende family tree if you’ve yet to do so – and many musicians never looked back to their roots.
This makes …and Oceans’ return all the more surprising in 2020. It took a few lineup changes – chief among them original vocalist Kenny being replaced by Finntroll’s Mathias Lillmåns – and a good number of years (18 since the last …and Oceans record, 13 since their album as Havok Unit), but here they are. They also chose to do what many of their experimental black metal peers did not: complete their stylistic loop.
Perhaps nothing proves this point better than the complete lack of ceremony at the album’s outset. Opener “The Dissolution of Mind and Matter” bursts immediately forth with zero overture or string intro, just relentless blasts, hyperspeed riffs (of both the fiery low end and icy tremolo variety), and charismatic, venomous vocals. Much of the rest follows suit, sometimes with a touch more in the atmospheric, melodic, or “epic” departments, but always with an eye on sheer dominance. The solo section during “Five of Swords” eases off the violence in favor of a nice wash of keys as the backdrop; the monster title track adds a few industrial pulses and bleeps while also upping the emotional intensity where it matters most; “Apokatastasis” shows that the album isn’t afraid to add a bit more dramatic pomp (candelabras not included); and closer “The Flickering Lights” smartly ups the atmosphere to give the album a more ponderous sendoff. Best of all: there is nary a second of filler across these nearly 50 minutes.
Two key qualities greatly aid this set of songs. First is the precision. The band may have stripped away most of the industrial, but every performance is clinical in its accuracy. That doesn’t mean anyone sacrifices their human side – the drumming is particularly punchy and nuanced, and there’s even real, audible bass throughout the record – just that the whole is that much more merciless. Lillmåns, meanwhile, has more standard vitriol and less tortured flairs in his vocals than did Kenny, but he fits these new songs perfectly (the lyrical direction also seems a mite different; no “I Wish I Was Pregnant” here). Also key is the production, which manages to enhance the precision without making the record feel too dense, all while maintaining just enough of that nice 90s quality.
Combine the savagery of the songs with the top notch performances and ideal production and you’ve got a real gem on your hands. Cosmic World Mother won’t win …and Oceans any trophies for innovation, and that was exactly the point. Completing their own stylistic loop was the best possible approach they could have taken. The result is both a killer return and one of the better symphonic black metal albums in recent memory.