What a difference three years and a new vocalist make. German-Swiss band the Ocean has had nearly 40 members since songwriter/guitarist Robin Staps founded the Ocean Collective a decade ago. The addition of vocalist Loïc Rossetti has, according to Staps, influenced the very nature of how the Ocean creates music. Heliocentric is the first of two companion albums to be issued in 2010; Anthropocentric, will be released in the fall. Together, they critique Christianity from different (intellectually plausible) philosophical angles. This volume narrates the rise of the heliocentric worldview and its effects on Christian belief from medieval times to Darwin and Dawkins. Anthropocentric challenges the creationist view that Earth is the universe’s center.
Musically, Heliocentric stands apart from everything the Ocean has ever recorded. The band’s production and compositional approaches are much more spacious than on previous outings. For starters, Rossetti spends most of his time actually singing rather than growling. There are more textures here, but they are employed economically. “Firmament” begins with an effective ten-part riff, illuminated by a glockenspiel, a second guitar harmonic response, and halting drums and bassline. Rossetti’s convincing, even though the lyrics are straight out of Genesis until the last line. On the second verse he roars as the band moves into atomic overdrive, led by bassist Louis Jucker. “The First Commandment of the Luminaries” begins with a Meshuggah-like math attack, but quickly gives way to the rhythm section, strings, and backing vocals, and creates some extremely melodic prog metal. ”Metaphysics of the Hangman,” with its vocal harmonies, is led by the rhythm section and decorated by guitar interludes, shifting dynamics, and melodic sequences. “Swallowed by the Earth,” which features layers of enormous distorted guitar and alternately growled and sung call-and-response vocals, is extreme heaviness. The last two cuts, “The Origin of the Species” and “The Origin of God” employ huge, clean chords and pulsing riffs to build tension -- added to by the use of strings (the former) and horns (the latter) -- that’s nearly unbearable before busting wide open and returning for resolution. There are even a couple of piano ballads (“Ptolemy Was Wrong,” and “Epiphany”); they may make metal purists cringe, but they belong here, adding to the depth and mystery of Heliocentric both musically and lyrically. This is the most forward-thinking statement by the Ocean yet, and stands as the most seamlessly integrated and consistent recording they’ve issued to date. The packaging is amazing, too: a gorgeous silver metallic sun and planets are laid out on a gray universe circle upon a jet black multi-textured-and-cartography-designed sleeve. The inner sleeve contains lyrics on nine individually designed, four-color art cards.