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The Ocean

A water monument, a wall of soundwaves, a gigantic seabeast-like record. All of this is 'Aeolian' by The Ocean. The German collective is on its way to become one of the most important pioneers in the post hardcore movement alongside Cult Of Luna and Isis. According to guitarist and percussionist Robin Staps one might take the word 'collective' quite literally. His ideal band looks like an almost communistic club of people that come and go, without individualism. In practice this remains an idea only, and The Ocean has its solid band core, but it lend the microphone on their last record already to one of the all-time greatest in experimental hardcore from bands like Coalesce, Converge and Breach. Robin Staps elaborately tells the story about a band with an almost certain very bright future.

By: Jasper | Archive under different metal

First of all congratulations with your new record, it is great! Yet also my condolences, I heard you canceled your October tour due to a nearing death of a relative, how is everybody managing in The Ocean?
Thanks. We're getting back on track... we had to, since we had to play a single festival gig in Spain at the end of October. That was only a week after our drummer's mother's death, so it was a bit hard for him, but he's a tough boy. His mom died of cancer in the middle of the tour, and of course he wanted to spend her last days with her, so we had to cancel all dates on a short-term notice. It was fucked up, but there are things like that that you can't control. What are they called in English? "Acts of God"...

Let's get to the music, I must say I was a bit surprised by the massive heaviness that came out of my speakers when I first listened to 'Aeolian'. You sure did not make any compromises on this one did you?
No we didn't... 'Aeolian' is a brutal fucking bastard of a record: there are no embellishments, fewer calm passages than in the past, there's no room to breathe for the listener, it's the full-on assault of the senses: technical yet highly emotional, empathetic yet vile. Song-lengths range between 1.30 and 10 minutes; there are a lot of weird time-signatures and seemingly chaotic arrangements, but the overall picture is really coherent I think... You don't get lost in the record, you'll always get the feeling, although it might take a while to absorb the whole thing and to remember the songs. It's definitely not an easy-listening record, it's was a challenge for us to make this record, and it is a challenge for the listener to receive it. To us it is a very special record, and the one we're most content with, from all the records we've done so far.

I heard 'Aeolian' was actually already recorded some time ago during the recording sessions of 'Fluxion', it is striking though that the two are so different then, you really have improved, although there was little or no time between the two records! Do you have an explanation for it?
Not really. I wouldn't even say that we have improved with 'Aeolian', not musicwise. It's just a different cup of tea. The drums- and guitar tracks for 'Fluxion' and 'Aeolian' were recorded all at once in January and February 2004. At that time we realized that the two records wouldn't be released together as a double-CD, so we divided up the songs in a way that made sense to us. This meant that the more orchestral, epic songs with big instrumentations got assigned to 'Fluxion', while the more straight-forward tunes got assigned to 'Aeolian'. The material is all from the same era though, and to me the two records belong together. We then decided to finish 'Fluxion' first. After 'Fluxion' was released last summer, we went back to work on 'Aeolian', recorded the bass tracks and then the vocals. With 'Aeolian', of course we could make use of some of the experiences we have made with 'Fluxion' and the things we have learned along the way, mostly as for what the sound engineering and recording process are concerned. I think the sound on 'Aeolian' is more crushing than on 'Fluxion', although the raw material was essentially the same -- the mix and mastering are just better.

What made you decide to put all the keyboards, a very important element for The Ocean in the past, to the background and leave the 'classic rock' instruments on 'Aeolian'?
We are a very diverse band. We haven't gone through phases, like a "soft" phase and now it's the "heavy" phase. It was all always there. I think our first, instrumental record "fogdiver" is still perfectly representative of what we're doing, just as much as 'Aeolian'. I think the new record shows a side of us that was always part of the whole, and people who have witnessed our live-shows are perfectly aware of that. We've been playing a song like "Queen of the Food-Chain" from 'Aeolian' for more than three years live now! Our live show always had equal parts 'Fluxion' and 'Aeolian'. It just happened that some of these songs were never released until now. Back in the days of 'Fogdiver', people who bought the record and then came to see us live were really shocked at times, because we were much heavier than they expected. I mean, we had Tortoise and Mogwai fans at our shows, and then we were playing some new songs that had the heaviness of the 'Aeolian' record. That was confusing for a lot of people. We don't give a shit, never have, never will. We like to surprise people. Our next record might just as well be a surf-record...

Which part of The Ocean do you think is more likely to be heard in the future, the more atmospheric 'Fluxion' side, or the blasting more instrumental 'Aeolian' you just presented?
I can't really say at this point. Surf... no, I'm just kidding. If you have a look at our past records you will realize that they are all quite different from one another, so why would the next one sound like any of them? The next one is going to be an entity of its own, just like all the other records. To give you at least some idea, though: I don't think we're going to turn our backs on the orchestral, atmospheric approach we have taken with especially 'Fluxion'. This is something where I see a lot of new ground to be discovered, still. But that doesn't mean that the next record is going to sound like 'Fluxion', I'm just thinking of the big-scale orchestrations, the moody parts dominated by cello and trombones. I'd like to sharpen the contrasts even more. Make the heavy parts even more crushing and intricate, the calm parts more multi-layered, more gripping, more sad, more dark. But let's see...

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One of the most striking things about the record are the many guest appearances. Many bands who had so many guests tend to lose their own identity, yet you guys managed to keep the sound together, was this because of the 'dictatorial' way you told the guests to perform their parts, or could we really speak of a certain 'magic' in the air that made all the individuals fit in?
There was definitely this type of creative magic in the air, but that's a question I'll have to answer individually for every single one of them, because the work process was very different. Tomas basically sung the lines the way I had meant them to be, but of course he gave them his specific Breach-touch, and that was awesome to see because apparently I love Breach, that's why I contacted him in the first place. Some parts, such as the opening part of the song 'Austerity', where you have these multi-layered vocals by Tomas and Ercüment, that was something that came out spontaneously. We had Tomas and Ercü in the studio the same day actually, and they got along great, they both recorded the part and in the end we decided to just put it all together... Sean Ingram recorded his tracks in the States. I really wanted to have him on the album, because to me his low-end voice always kind of represented the epitome of brutality, and I adore Coalesce, they're one of my all-time favourite bands. I was also curious to see Sean Ingram and our mainman Meta abreast, and I'll have to say that Meta's voice is even more brutal and even lower than Sean's. When I finally got Sean's tracks I was almost shocked at first, because he completely changed the vocal arrangements of the song, especially the chorus. The other guest-singers have basically sung my lines the way they were originally meant to be. So we all sat down and listened to it and we were like, "wow, this is really... weird!". The song 'Queen of the Food-Chain' is a really old song actually, we've been playing it live for more than three years, so we were really used to our version. And now we heard something completely different, that was confusing. But in the end we realized that it was just different, not necessarily better or worse, just different, and it really started growing on us. Today, I love it.

Among the well known guests as Tomas Hallbom, Sean Ingram, and Nate Newton also some more unknown vocalists contributed their part, could you please introduce them (Karsten Albrecht and Ercument Kasalar) to the readers?
Ercüment Kasalar sings in a German band called Tephra (www.tephra.de). They are really good. We've been knowing them for a while and played some shows together, and I really dig Ercü's voice, so I asked him if he was into doing some guest vocals on our new album. You can year Ercü on 'Necrobabes.com', in the slow doom-part of 'The City in the Sea' and on the opening verse in 'Killing The Flies', for example. Carsten Albrechtsings in another German band called The Anti-Doctrine. A friend of mine gave me a CD of his band at some show we played in the "Ruhrpott" area, and when I put on the disc later at home I was immediately reminded of old Darkane as soon as the vocals set in. So I called up that dude and asked him if he was down for doing some guest vox on our new record. Carsten is singing on 'One with the Ocean', and also on 'Une Saison en Enfer', although his voice sounds really different here, more in the old-school hardcore vein. He's got a good range of vocal styles.

You guys did a tour with Tomas Hallbom from Breach, his band quit, can we expect some closer cooperation between Tomas and The Ocean in the future?
Hopefully, yes. Our collaboration with Tomas was very fulfilling, and Tomas loved doing it. He misses being in Breach so much, he was really happy to be back on stage, and he really managed to dive into this OCEAN-feeling and give it his personal BREACH-touch, it was great. When he was on stage with us, we played four Breach cover-songs, which was an incredible experience also for me. I claim to be the biggest BREACH-fan under the sun. Words fail me when it comes to this band, they have had such a huge impact on me, I have been knowing them since their first EP and have been a witness of their evolution since. There have been few bands who have thus consequently developed their own, really unique sound, so apparently, being on stage with Tomas was more than awesome. Point is, Tomas has two kids and he's running his tattoo-studio in Sweden, so he can't take off just like that, it has to be carefully planned. But chances are we'll have him along with us on our upcoming tour in march/april, at least for parts of the tour.

With song titles like 'The City In The Sea', and 'One With The Ocean', and the fantastic artwork, can we state that with Aeolian you created a concept album?
I guess so. I would even extend this to both 'Fluxion' and 'Aeolian' as a whole. These records have corresponding titles, corresponding artwork and corresponding music. We chose corresponding titles to emphasize the connection between the two records. 'Aeolian' refers to the force of the wind, to all processes of erosion and geomorphologic shaping of the earth through the power of winds. Apparently, this is also reflected in the album artwork. 'Fluxion' is the same for the medium of water. I urge everyone to check out 'Fluxion', too. And I really want people to find out about the details of the concept on their own. It would be too easy to just speak about it here.

What do you think of the current stream of 'post hardcore' bands following the path of Neurosis like Cult Of Luna, Isis, Burst, of course The Ocean, and by now, a whole horde of followers, is it a good thing this type of music becomes more popular or are you afraid for a hype and shallowness?
I don't see any shallowness in it, so I think it is essentially a positive thing. The last COL record was the best fucking record I have heard in ages. Haven't heard the new Burst record yet, but we just released a split 7" with them, I'm stoked to hear it. I love this type of music and if people appreciate it, that's great. We don't really feel part of any 'scene' though, we simply play the music that feels right to us and we invite everyone to enjoy it with us. In fact, we have all different types of people coming to our shows: there are thick-glassed emo kids, metal heads, black-haired button-dudes, Betty Page Girls, Neurosis-Crusties...everything you can think of. And I think that's great. As of 2005, I agree if people see us in a tradition of bands like Neurosis or the Swans, but I don't really think we have too much in common with these bands, musically. I think we have really developed our own sound, both with the orchestral, multi-layered approach we've taken with our previous record 'Fluxion' and with our new album 'Aeolian', which goes back to a more basic line-up of drums/bass/guitars/vocals, without all the orchestral embellishments of 'Fluxion'. It's a natural thing that people draw comparisons to things they are familiar with, our brain simply works like that. If I play our old records to my father, he says that we sound like Pink Floyd -- this is because he doesn't know many modern metal and noise-bands, thus Pink Floyd is his closest reference. I think it's funny. I think our whole approach to writing songs is very different from bands like Isis or Neurosis. These bands stick to a sort of minimalist approach, reducing every idea to its most basic elements, whereas THE OCEAN could be described as the epitome of "maximalism", we tend to make songs really "full", with a lot of instruments, lot of guitar tracks, multiple singers, sounds and little details, plus all the visual aspects; light-show, videos, etc. It's the full assault of the senses.

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You just signed with Metal Blade, don't you guys feel a little out of place among all those more traditional metal oriented bands?
We're very content with being on Metal Blade. They have been really supportive of what we're doing and with 'Aeolian', they have even agreed to realize the most expensive and elaborate artwork in the history of the label! That shows how much trust and expectations they put into us, and that is much more important than whether or not you identify with all the other bands on the label. Of course there might be other labels that have a roster of bands that we can relate to more than to most of the Metal Blade bands. But in the end, what really counts is promotion, distribution, motivation, and whether your label treats you as a priority or whether you're one in a million, and I had very positive feelings regarding all these issues with Metal Blade, but not from the other labels we were dealing with, especially Earache. Some other labels were saying that they'd like to sign us, but they have so many releases scheduled there's hardly any room to release 'Aeolian' until end of 2006! So we were like yeah, whatever. Another plus is that we're dealing with Metal Blade directly through Europe, through the German office actually, that way it's much more personal and communication is faster.

Could you elaborate on the concept of 'The Ocean Collective'? Can anybody just join your band?
If they can bring in something useful and if they are technically skilled, motivated and willing to work as a part of the big whole, then the answer is yes. We try to get as far as possible away from having a stable, that is: static line-up. If you take a look at our band-photos, four out of the seven people on these pictures are not even in the band anymore - and these pictures were taken only 1,5 years ago. And still the band is healthy and thriving. Of course, there has to be a certain core-line-up, otherwise it wouldn't work. But we try to work with changing bass- and guitar-players, for example. In the ideal case, we would have two bass-players, two drummers, four guitarists, etc - so that whenever one doesn't have time, there's still another person who's capable of doing the job. That way we wouldn't have to cancel any shows and could be on tour all the time, or play in two cities at the same time, that's a cool idea. But, realistically, it's hard to do that, because it is a part of human nature that we don't like to be exchangeable. We tend to start fighting and behaving like cowboys when we get the feeling that we're not unique in very fucking aspect, when we realize that there are other people capable of doing the same thing that we do. Some people have a problem with that, others don't...
As of now, the way the collective works is that we have this core-line-up of fix members that keep the band functioning. Apart from that, there's a number of loosely associated people who we call upon when we need them. There are violin, cello, clarinet and trombone - players, for example. You don't hear a lot of that stuff on 'Aeolian', but our previous record 'Fluxion' was a lot more orchestral and epic, we used a lot of classical instruments on that record. These people also appear on stage with us at times, mostly in Berlin though, we can't take them along on tour with us because we're already eight people in the band, so we have to rent a huge van and there's no more room for additional players. Also, there are video and web designers that contribute to THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE.

What can we expect from The Ocean in the future?
Lots of touring. Lots of flying wood and broken noses. Lots of absinthe... and a new, devastating stage performance. You should really check us out live. There are certain aspects that we cannot convey on record - our MIDI-triggered light-show and the videos on stage are just two of them, it's the whole atmosphere on stage. We're trying to create a certain atmosphere on stage, by means of dim light in cold colors, video-projections and tons of moving bodies throwing around and chasing their instruments, evaporating blood, sweat and adrenaline. We try to make people get lost in our world for the duration of the show, and also whilst listening to our record. That's why there are interludes between songs, we try to link everything, we don't talk in between songs on stage, because we don't want the overall feeling that is connected to and conveyed by the music to stop and begin again, each and every time anew. We want people to get lost, within the music, within themselves. Right now we just want to tour as much as possible, on an international basis. hopefully we'll make it over to the US and Japan anytime soon, 'Aeolian' is our first record that is being released in these territories. We're going to be embarking on a big European tour early next year. The tour will begin on March 15th in Berlin and conclude on April 18th in Berlin, again. It will take us to Scandinavia for the first time, but also to Italy, Spain, Portugal and to the Netherlands! We'll be down there in early April, supposedly.

Would you like to add anything?
We have a split 7" with Sweden's BURST out on the Dutch label garden of Exile Records featuring exclusive artwork by Seldon Hunt (Isis, Pelican). There's another 7" out on Danish Futhermocker label (limited to 220 copies) that features an exclusive version of the song 'Queen of the Food-Chain' with Tomas Hallbom of BREACH singing; the album version is sung entirely by Sean Ingram. Check the websites below for further info. Come check us out live. Don't be afraid. We're nice guys...

http://www.theoceancollective.com
http://www.gardenofexile.nl
http://www.futhermocker.dk/mock-ups

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