Oceanica – OneDark
Ben Harris-Hayes is no newcomer to progressive music, being the frontman and composer of UK band Enochian Theory. The Brits released two EP’s and two fantastic albums over the 10 year period the band was active. Their debut “Evolution: Creatio Ex Nihilio”, was one of my favorite releases of 2009, and the follow up “Life…And All It Entails” from 2012 was, if possible, even stronger. Sadly the band announced their “infinite hiatus” in 2013, and fans have been hoping to hear some good news from the involved musicians ever since.
So, late last year, we finally got some news, but this time around it was not new music from Enochian Theory, but rather the debut album of Harries-Hayes himself that was announced. Personally I’m a bit surprised it took this long, because clearly the man’s mind is fertile ground for a wellspring of musical ideas, but still, “OneDark” is, as far as I’m aware, his first solo effort.
As a reviewer I must admit this is possibly one of the more challenging reviews I’ve written recently. I think my love of the output of Enochian Theory, and the fact that I was expecting Oceanica to present something more akin to the Enochian Theory-style of progressive music, made this album hard to digest at first. I had to come back to it time and again, and try to wipe my mind clear of the unfair expectations I held. I was trying to create a “tabula rasa” for the album to imprint on, so to say. And while I partially got there in the end, one of the things that I’m still struggling with is the sheer diversity of sounds and styles that permeate “One Dark”.
Some of the music on “OneDark”, like the forceful, explosive opening to ‘All the Cool Kidz R Doin’ It’ brings me immediately back to the earlier output of Harries-Hayes, complete with its occasional screams and Meshuggah-inspired chugging riffs. On the other edge of his musical universe we find a track like ‘Towards the Sun’, that feels more like if you took a poppy trip-hop track, complete with excellent mystery female vocals, and viewed it through a twisted and warped lens. Not at all what I expected, but nonetheless a satisfying little mind-trip.
The same happens with ‘Reverence’, a short pop-like melody is violently butchered by grinding guitars and forceful screams before settling into a more patented Harris-Hayes sound. Even though the contrasts might be unsettling for the listener, I just have to compliment Harris-Hayes on his uncompromising vision. This is fully his musical universe being exposed here, no pandering or attempts to “appeal to the masses”.
There are however brilliant gems to find here. The five minute ‘Oubliette’ is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Partly because of the haunting, ethereal vocals that flow through the track like water, but also because the lead-guitar is just breathtaking, and compliments the pulsing rhythm section so well. When the guitar hits you, around the three minute mark, it elevates the song to another level, and adds impressive layers of emotion and drive to an otherwise elegant piece of music. The same goes for the excellent ‘A Rose, Abloom’ with its driving orchestration and haunting melody. I also love the layered, complex midsection, flowing into a passionate epilogue. Impressive songwriting.
Although the album feels a bit unfocused and obscure at times, Harris-Hayes vocals are one of the ingredients that help create a unified sound here. I’ve been impressed with his voice ever since I heard my first Enochian Theory track. He has a vulnerable, almost fragile quality to his voice that always grabs my attention and adds intensity to the music, while his extreme screams are guaranteed to give me the chills when they are used. They are somewhat missed here though, as they are only occasionally used on “OneDark”.
If you, as a reader, still feel some hesitancy in my words, you are right. I can’t help but feel that Oceanica would benefit from a somewhat narrower, focused approach on “OneDark”. After having the album as a musical companion for months, some tracks never stop fascinating and aweing me, while others sadly never come into focus, passing me by like ships in the fog over and over.
What is clear, however, is that Harris-Hayes, and his Oceanica is worth paying attention to, as there is brilliance and innovation happening on the album that I don’t often feel I hear in modern, more formulaic, progressive music. If you are the kind of listener who enjoys challenging music and love to be surprised by twists and turns, I highly recommend you to check out “OneDark”. It’s truly one of a kind!
- All the Cool Kidz R Doin’ It
- Amounting to Nothing
- Start from the Start
- Got a Feeling
- Towards the Sun
- The Rose, Abloom
- The Entangled Roots of..
- The Oblivion Tree