Review: The Ocean - Fogdiver
Brilliant Instrumental Work
Fogdiver marks the first non-demo release by atmospheric sludge mammoths The Ocean. This German based collective, lead by Robin Staps, has delved into many interesting ideas over the space of their career. This EP not only lays the groundwork for what will come, it remains one of The Ocean's most interesting works - all with the omission of vocals. While there is no man behind the mic for this release, this is certainly not to the detriment of the music. The music is undoubtably strong enough to stand on it's own, and unless the vocals matched the caliber of the music, their inclusion may have resulted in the marring of an otherwise fantastic release.
Much of the success of this release lies in it's lush atmosphere. The album is produced in such a way that it sounds both clear and full. As their name might suggest, this release evokes images of the sea. Not being as violent and confrontational as some of the band's other work, this still has it's share of crushing riffs. These riffs remain relatively simple and to the point, but the band only puts forth their best ones. The riff that reoccurs in the second half of "Isla De La Luna" remains one of the most memorable The Ocean have ever written. While they still would be very effective, if put in a different context, the heavier riffs might not fully have had the same crushing effect. What makes them seem particularly devastating in this case is their contrast between the lighter sections. These lighter sections, while certainly not an exercise in minimalism, do contribute much of the album's atmosphere.
While this release is consistent in terms of having a fluid atmosphere, it is comprised of many distinct ideas. While the main feeling behind the music remains relatively congruent, there is an abundance of different timbres, instruments and dynamics. The classical stringed instruments not only enhance the atmosphere, but on multiple occasions become the main driving force behind the music. The exotic piano in "The Long Road to Nha Trang" is a welcome inclusion, conjuring images of Old World Eastern European coastal villages. The more tribal oriented drumming parts in "Isla De La Luna" create a feeling of depth. This release does not seem decidedly dark as many lighter, more hopeful passages make up a fair bulk of the music. The hopeful yet vaguely melancholy melody that starts off "Endusers" may remind some listeners of Pelican. This melody is beautiful in a bittersweet way, providing a wonderful contrast of emotions. Dissonance is also often used for the purpose of contrast, creating a compelling clash with the fluid forward motion of the EP. It is especially interesting when they play a more hopeful guitar line under the lens of dissonance.
One of the main reasons that the inclusion of vocals may have been an intrusion is that it could have resulted in the release feeling cluttered. There is a lot going on here, from the occasional psychedelic clean guitar tones to the well-placed voice samples. From the deep, rolling bass lines to the recurring crawling dissonant guitar lines, it becomes apparent that this release would not have faired as well without room to breath. The addition of vocals may have suffocated this need for air. This is an album of varied dynamics, timbres and instrumentation and the intricate and often changing way the songs are composed would have made it hard to figure out how and where to fit vocals in. Although vocals are indispensable to many of The Ocean's releases (with the band having used a nearly absurd number of vocalists throughout their career), Fogdiver is astounding as it is.
Fogdiver is a composition of many diverse layers. With the success of a good number of their full lengths, most notably Precambrian, this early EP is often overlooked. It would be wrong to assume that this is just a rudimentary early release by a band still struggling to find their sound. This couldn't be further from the case. This is a fully developed exploration of the more progressive and atmospheric side of sludge. This exploration was no doubt a great success.