…And Oceans is a name that elicits a precise idea in the minds of extreme metal enthusiasts. Primarily known as the oddballs of the turn-of-the-century black metal scene, they pursued a brand of musical entropy that climaxed with them changing their name to Havoc Unit in 2005 because they became so different from what they initially were. They embraced their electronic and industrial influences up to a point of no return.
Havoc Unit (who, by then, had returned to the band’s original name of Festerday. Don’t ask), parted ways with their charismatic frontman Kena Strömshold, better known as Kenny in 2019, hired Fintroll’s Mathias Lillmans on vocal duties and changed their name AGAIN to …And Oceans. They also returned to their original symphonic black metal sound with Cosmic World Mother, a record praised for its richness and integrity. A little hard to follow perhaps, but I’m happy to announce that their new record As in Gardens, So in Tombs is a consistent follow-up to their triumphant return to form.
The album starts with the title song, which makes two things very clear from the get-go. As in Gardens, So in Tombs is going to be a monolith of black metal fury and that the melodic riffs and tremolo picking are going to be the stars of the show. The two guitarists of …And Oceans Teemu and Timo were originally with the band when it started in 1995 and bring a Scandinavian nineties heritage to this bad boy. As in Gardens, So in Tombs is not an experimental record by any means, but the title song features a fun bridge that leaves all the space to Antti Simonen’s keyboard and segmented the song quite nicely. The Collector and his Construct picks up right where the title song leaves off and somehow manages to crank up the fury through a killer Mathias Lillmans’ performance and a ridiculously hard blast beat intro. Once again, the melodic riffs make the song come together. Something about them reminded me of old school In Flames.
Within Fire and Crystal changes things up a bit with a groovier guitar lead and more prevalent synth that give another dimension to Lillmans’ storytelling. It’s one of the proggiest songs on the record too, with a weird structure and a lot of tempo changes. Carried on Lead Wings sometimes veers into death metal territory, a style …And Oceans also has history with during the years they performed as Festerday. The only song in Finnish, Likt Törnen Genom Kött, is one of my favorites on the record. It’s constructed in such an interesting way. All of its furious parts lead up to these more melodic pockets that once again are reminiscent of the old school Gothenburg sound. With a lot more synths, of course. You have to love synths to love this album
The single Cloud Head is as furious as anything on this record, but it’s perhaps the song that breaks the most from its monolithic intensity along with the sublime closer Ambivalent God. It’s the song that features the most prominent symphonic elements. It also has this really cool dissonant interlude that will sway old school fans. Wine Into Water starts off with swelling melancholic strings that transition into tremolo picking, kicking up the emotion a notch. Although Mathias Lillmans’ voice doesn’t translate other emotions than pure fucking anger, the band does a great job at nuancing him on this track. On Inverse Magnification Matrix, the synth finally takes center stage and gives the song an unexpected, but welcome Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia-era Dimmu Borgir feel. The Earth Canvas offers a lot of the same thrills than songs like The Collector and his Construct and Carried on Lead Wings, which is cool. Who doesn’t like an extra serving?
Ambivalent God was somewhat of a culmination of all the good ideas on As in Gardens, So in Tombs. The lengthiest song on the record is meshed with gorgeous tremolo picking, subtle yet efficient keyboard fills. It breaks down into Gotherburgian passages and even dark ambient interludes, exploring the richness and complexity …And Oceans is capable of. Lillmans’ delivers his best, most emotional performance on it.
As in Gardens, So in Tombs was very much the logical evolution of Cosmic World Mother. It’s a record that pays tribute to …And Oceans’ complex history, but also to their influences without ever feeling derivative. I usually like my black metal of the basement-weirdo-wearing-a-chainmail variety, but this was a contemporary and idea-driven take on the genre that honors the band’s tradition of originality and forward thinking. A little too monolithic in its fury at times for me (think Dark Funeral-like), it might not be something I’d be keen on returning to over and over, but those who like proggier and more technical black metal that still carries a lot of soul and atmosphere will love it.
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