By Dr. Abner Mality

I wonder what Jacques Cousteau would have made of The Ocean? Anybody remember him? When I was growing up, this French marine explorer was one of my heroes. Anywhere where there was water, that's where you'd find him. From streams and rivers to the deepest, most forbidden abysses of the ocean. I'm sure we will not see his like again.

I'm pretty sure German prog-post metal titans The Ocean also count Cousteau as an inspiration. This time, the guys have gone to the very roots of their name to come up with a concept album that journeys from the sun-dappled upper layers of the sea to the crushing lightless depths of the ocean. Of course, travelling from the surface to the bottom of the ocean can also mirror the human mind. It takes a brave explorer to plumb both those depths.

"Pelagial" is a classic of dense and challenging progressive metal. Beginning with the beautiful piano intro of "Epipelagic", we explore the lighted surface of the ocean with the energetic but bright "Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny". It becomes evident that this is a heavier and more driving version of The Ocean than what we've heard on their last couple of albums. The lighter moments and keyboards are still there, but the guitars rule this album. There's a lot of well crafted work going into the whole album...I'm not a big fan of post-metal stuff but I know quality when I hear it and it's here in spades. The vocals range from plaintive clean singing to the bestial roars of the abyssal predators.

I was a little disappointed with some of the later songs, as I expected them to be as heavy as millions of tons of water. The two "Hadopelagic" songs are a little more restrained that I thought they should be for representing the deep part of the sea. But the tracks are darker...the music becomes progressively darker as we journey towards the bottom. With "Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance", the darkness and harshness become very pronounced, with choppy, even brutal riffs. Satisfaction arrives totally when we touch bottom, as "Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes" is the sort of slow-moving, doomy heaviness appropriate for a place where no light can be seen. This is the "crush depth" where most man-made devices are totally destroyed by pressure...and "Pelagial" ends with a squall of electronic noise and feedback as if the sub we've been travelling in has been squashed flat at last.

In an interesting move, The Ocean has released an instrumental version of "Pelagic" where the human voice is absent. Little connection to humanity remains there. Whether you find the absence of a voice comforting or disturbing is entirely up to you.

Not too many bands in this sub-genre are going to match The Ocean for thoughtful, epic work. They really are the Jacques Cousteaus of the metal world.