Ocean Pantheon of the Lesser

[Important; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: doom metal
Others:  Neurosis

Much ado has been devoted to the fact that, to date, Ocean’s debut reigns as having sold more units than any other album issued by Important Records. No doubt there are those who maintain that Here Where Nothing Grows should be earning commendation for its artistic merit rather than its economic capabilities, but the occurrence typifies a much more sweeping phenomenon at work here: a general appreciation of metal music has, over time, germinated across an increasingly variegated fan base. Whether this fact can be attributed to the broad domain that metal offers, thus priming itself for continual expansion and offshoot subcategories, or that it has simply assimilated into a larger society that historically has unfeelingly pigeonholed everything, metal has progressed from a punchline to an art form taken ever so seriously.

Granted, the gradation towards mainstream acceptance that metal and its copious progeny (in Ocean’s case, primarily doom metal) have undergone has withstood some hindrances, eliciting allegations of being too esoteric or lacking in creativity. But this fact only further underlines the band’s intriguing popularity: amidst a roster of other luminaries worthy of some name-dropping here and there, Ocean’s prominence — even within the hedges of a relatively small-scale, respectable label generally concerned with the nurturing of ambient soundscapes — remains impressive. And despite the fact that the band isn’t trailblazing any new approaches, this second album confirms that same shrewd dexterity; Pantheon of the Lesser seems carved out of a paint-by-number template and magisterially hewn into another authentic, representative piece of doom metal.

Because the entire record consists of only two tracks, reviewing Pantheon of the Lesser as something resembling a suite may prove more helpful, bearing in mind that, while distinguishable movements overlap each other throughout, a basic essence of unconquerable despair suffuses every second of both compositions, evident in the natural forcefulness of the music and the disquietingly isolated vocals. Lasting just under one hour, Pantheon of the Lesser is exhausting, a sprawling dirge wrenched of all emotion.

Monumental first act “The Beacon” forgoes any concern of preluding the overawing immensity of Ocean’s sound with the otherwise preferred device of intensification, instead opening with a plane of thick, drawn-out bursts trading preeminence with contorting feedback. Materializing from these bellows are cavernous, unintelligible growls and a slow, deliberate drumbeat. Surprisingly, rather than steering “The Beacon” towards a restricted, earthbound direction, the militaristic rigidity of the drums adds to the encompassing magnitude of the guitars and enhances the sheer volume of the song. Progressively, the beat speeds up into a battle march, as the guitar monoliths yield to a disharmonious melody, stifled and edgeless in its emission, serving more as an unsettling forewarning of an impending onslaught.

This particular point is significant because one realizes that, either during that first listen or amidst revisited explorations, Pantheon of the Lesser is structured around and thrives upon precipices; the ensuing thrill arrives in the fact that Ocean is equally skilled in both constraining and spilling into dark oblivion. Here, the latter of the two possibilities occurs, resulting in the album’s best few minutes: relentless waves of beautiful consonance soaring into enraptured catharsis. Eventually, the music subdues its progression, capitulating to a gray, funereal moan, a strikingly evanescent closure to a far-reaching 36 minutes.

Still a behemoth of an enterprise with only two tracks, Pantheon of the Lesser may have pandered to logic and offered a counterpoint to “The Beacon” for its second half. But “Of the Lesser” quickly reveals itself as a reiteration of the themes first conveyed. A buildup fizzles almost to a halt. Barbed notes, courtesy of a more conventional guitar contribution, expedite one movement. Dense walls of instrumentation disgorge haggard, inhuman roars. Steady, powerful chords churn back and forth, all the while preserving that latent uneasiness.

Long after Pantheon of the Lesser has run its course, the aftermath of its sheer density lingers. It’s an entirely strenuous experience, due just as much to the devastating thematic thrusts of discontentment as to the vast extent of the two compositions, which, I would suspect, is the effect that Ocean intended for all along. A few years and two albums into their career now, the band’s work runs fairly parallel to the equation, but so long as they continue to reap such a powerful exemplar of doom metal, Ocean, and the genre they so skillfully exhibit, will continue to garner the approval of listeners.

1. The Beacon
2. Of the Lesser

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