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Don’t bother trying to nail down the sound of the Ocean Collective (better known as simply the Ocean). Teutonic metalcore? No. Conceptual math-rock? Please.

“A one- or two-word tag could never adequately sum up what the Ocean is all about,” explains Robin Staps.

Staps is the composer-guitarist of this symphonic undertaking out of Berlin. Granted, listeners categorize things in order to understand them, but how does a fresh audience wrap its head around an experimental, 26-member doom metal act?

Fiery, intimidating and epic yet juxtaposed with spells of allure, calm and divinity, it’s the Ocean’s intention to sound a lot like the beginning stages of a planet, as evidenced by the title of their latest outing, 2007’s double-album Precambrian.

The Ocean showcases progressive sounds of extreme technical skill and classical composition ebbing and flowing on a shore of brutal metal. They have the spirit of Rush and Jethro Tull, with the truculence of Neurosis and Meshuggah. Precambrian features songs written on boundless and intuitive terms.

“I am not trying to write music that is extreme just for the sake of it being extreme,” says Staps. “I am not trying to write music that is hooky just for the sake of selling more records. I write music to satisfy myself more than anything, and if people share this with me, I am very happy, but if I am the only one enjoying it, then that is still pretty cool.”

Staps’ satisfaction has been duly shared, judging by Precambrian’s coronation as one of the best metal albums of last year by numerous global media sources. The entire collective is over two dozen members strong, including philharmonic musicians, video and web designers, graphic artists, and guest vocalists from Converge, Cave In and Breach. The Ocean only performs with eight of those members, though everything heard on the CD is in the live show.

“Our live show is highly energetic. What we’re trying to conjure up on stage is like a little movie in itself. We try to make people get lost in our sounds and visuals … and within themselves.”

Ultimately, the advanced nature of the Ocean is really about the sensations that lie within the music, lyrics and even the artwork that they project. For example, Staps pulls from Immanuel Kant’s ideas on the subjective nature of aesthetic experience by explaining how primal men must have felt watching a thunderstorm – a combination of awe
and fear.

“Our music hits the same nerves.”

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