Least Hated: OCEAN 'Pantheon Of The Lesser'
Portland, ME-based doom metal outfit Ocean may have been from the most metropolitan area in the state but their music matched the spirit of the vast north country’s wilderness. The bands dispiritingly slow, obscenely heavy and barrenly minimalistic soundscapes invoked images of the region’s towering evergreens, colossal mountains and frigid mid-winter nights. If Ocean’s music were a place, few humans would choose to live there.
The four-piece’s 2005 debut full-length, Here Where Nothing Grows, was an exercise in bleakness. With three songs clocking it at sixty-five minutes, the record trudged through some of the sparsest songwriting possible. Drummer Eric Brackett dragged the material along at tectonic speeds with the guitar chords ringing out so long they dissolved into washes of feedback before the next strum. Misery would barely begin to describe the feeling it carried.
But if the arrangements on their debut were sparse, then Pantheon Of The Lesser is damn near empty. Just two tracks—the first a thirty-six minute epic—compose the hour run time, and on them Ocean truly dial in on the elements that made their first record so intriguing. Mammoth sounding guitars, bass and drums creep along glacially, with guitarist/vocalist Candy Carlson’s otherworldly growls and screams blending into the music. His voice often sustains even longer than the chords ring, acting more as a fifth instrument than a vocal accompaniment.
“The Beacon,” the longer of the two songs, operates essentially in three movements. Its opening section crawls through explosions of sound, slowly gaining momentum until it drops into an arpeggiated clean guitar chord. The band traverses through the quieter middle section on a bed of Brackett’s toms, building into a powerful melodic crescendo, the guitars of Carlson and JL layered between clean and distorted before falling off once again. In the final movement, the song builds back up from silence, joined by the powerful vocals of Yoshiko Ohara of New York doomsters Bloody Panda. It may last over half an hour, but it barely feels it.
Pantheon Of The Lesser would have been a worthy outing with just “The Beacon,” but Ocean also presents “Of The Lesser,” a twenty-three minute juggernaut that more closely resembles the group’s debut. Embracing the spaces between the beats, the band leaves plenty of room for feedback and atmosphere as the song climbs along a steady incline of power. As “Of The Lesser” hits it climax halfway through, the rest of the song acts as the residual aftershocks of the pounding, slowly descending into silence along a wash of ringing guitars and cymbal crashes.
Ocean left us with just a small amount of material—their two full lengths and a pair of splits—but the quality of it all is well beyond the quantity. Records like Here Where Nothing Grows and Pantheon Of The Lesser may not be the easiest, most accessible listens—in fact, they demand your deep attention for full appreciation—but the rewards for taking them on are as gigantic as the sounds they produced.
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Here Where Nothing Grows is a masterpiece. The greatest doom album of all time. Bleak yet epic, sparse and simple yet full. Without any of the mythological trappings of most death/doom bands, it's just a long, slow exercise in despair.
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