The musical legacy of …and Oceans has hardly been one of conformity. From the very earliest album, the band has always given their own distinct and experimental view of Black Metal. Formed in 1995, the band was the odd one out in the blossoming Finnish scene, with perhaps only Alghazanth coming close to the symphonic take on Black Metal. But whereas Alghazanth were always a bit of a cast-out especially in the Finnish scene, the debut album of …And Oceans was more widely embraced. And for a good reason, as to this day the sensational ‘The Dynamic Gallery of Thoughts’ is one of the best examples of symphonic Black Metal that’s adventurous, fierce and intense. The band were never going to settle for a set sound, and the following ‘The Symmetry of I, the Circle of O’ introduced a little bit more experiments, although the real change happened with the release of 2001’s ‘A.M.G.O.D.’. Shifting heavily to an electronics-influenced sound, I remember the album was received with very mixed feelings, logical perhaps considering the band’s roots while on the other hand the band had been pushing for more and more experiments already. The successor ‘Cypher’ stuck to the electronic take with a heavier, straightforward chugging Black Metal base to go with it, but couldn’t quite approach the controversial excitement of its predecessor. The band then ceased to be, changing name to Havoc Unit after having moved too far away from their origins.
It was a great surprise that the band returned under the banner of …and Oceans, but perhaps even more so that the return came in the shape of the magnificent ‘Cosmic World Mother’. While the electronic escapades were still somewhat present, the band had mostly turned back to the fast and heavy symphonic and melodic approach of their first two albums, yet with a much more modern sound. Logical, since over two decades had passed since those earliest albums, and the scene had developed quite a lot. And on top of that, several positions including that of vocalist had been taken up by new members. Regardless, the album sounded fresh and recognisable, completing a strong return to form for the band. And to put an exclamation point on an emphatic return, the band follows it up with the even better ‘As in Gardens, So in Tombs’.
On the latest album, released at the end of January 2023, the vast majority of the electronic past has been further reduced besides an occasional sample in a break. Instead, the much heavier blasting sound of ‘Cosmic World Mother’ has been retained with possibly a bit more emphasis on the symphonic keyboards and entrancing guitar melodies. But the biggest difference is increased variation. Variation in moods that range from dreamy to melancholic and spacey, alternating blasting sections and more midtempo mood-setting, and a more diverse vocal performance. The melodies that carry throughout the song are also just a tad more memorable than on the preceding album, and as a whole the album feels more consistent.
Highlights include the blasting opening title track, ‘The Collector and His Construct’ and ‘Cloud Heads’ with their strong late 90’s feel to it, the layered and shifting ‘Carried on Lead Wings’, the intense and ominous ‘Inverse Magnification Matrix’ or the entrancing ‘Ambivalent God’. On the vinyl version we get two bonus tracks: the less melody-driven and more rocking ‘Samlarens Valv’ and the excellent, more old school and catchy ‘Third Eye Catalyst’. While I see that these songs feel a bit different than the rest of the album, they’re nice additions as bonus tracks. Despite a very layered sound with several guitar parts, synthesizer layers, audible bass, blasting drums and shrieking vocals, the production of the album is just right, emphasizing the heaviness of the music yet retaining the intended atmosphere. It has this authentic feel in the keyboards, yet comes with a powerful overall sound, striking a great balance between power and frailty.
Powerful, epic, grandiose and catchy; The Finnish have always excelled at packing symphony, melody, ferocity and intensity in their Black Metal, a sound that …and Oceans helped set the template for. And with ‘As in Gardens, So in Tombs’ they show that even 25+ years after being formed and despite an extended break, they still master that craft. A great return after hibernation is followed up by an even better album in the shape of ‘As in gardens, So in Tombs’.