As we put 2013 behind us and look forward to another year of spreading the word about great music, we really have to look no further than Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, just a short 50 mile swim across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki. Why Tallinn, this little city of about 425,000 nestled away in the Nordic land of Europe? Because there we find Ocean District, a unique prog-metal/Post-Rock hybrid band that has just released their debut album “Expeditions” earlier this year and let me just get this right out of the way: It’s really, REALLY good.
Let me put it this way. This has been a crazy first month in the realm of Postrockstar as we’ve seen three major releases in the first month of the calendar year with release from Mogwai, Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Alcest. Despite three HUGE releases from bands with huge fanbases and followings, I opted to have my first review of 2014 be about a band who has exactly 222 likes on Facebook as of this writing (compared to Mogwai’s 454,645). That statistic should speak volumes as to how impressed I am by this release.
Spanning nine tracks and about 36 minutes long, “Expeditions” is a creamy blend of in your face Prog-metal and crescendo laden atmospheric post-rock. The band transitions between the two sounds without much hesitation or trouble and much of the album is as free flowing as it is powerful. Tracks like “Arctic Circle”, “Endurance” and “Seven Summits” pack a hell of a punch and are clearly the tracks where the band truly shines, but other songs on the albums such as “Expedition” and “Aurora” and “Discovery” show the more hybrid side of the band as they incorporate stretches of softer ambient passages that lead to monumental build ups.The band ties all of this together with a couple of short transitional interludes that are somewhat of “reset buttons” of sort when the album decides to return to heavier material.
Instrumental Prog-Metal is an area of music where I get the most out of it when it comes in small packages. By combining that style with post-rock influence and offerings Ocean District’s sound has a captivating longevity and appeal to it that I often times just don’t get with a large majority of prog-metal. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Animals As Leaders, Scale the Summit and Periphery, but I have a harder time really connecting with these bands rather than just admiring them for their talent, opting to listen to them when I consciously want to hear something loud rather than instinctively listen to them knowing their albums are rock solid. I don’t get that with Ocean Districts, this is an album that I have wanted to listen to repeatedly. I don’t think about whether I’m in the mood to listen to prog-metal or not, I just hit play and enjoy.
When it comes to independent DIY releases, I don’t hold them to the same level I would major releases that are backed and funded by labels. You just can’t expect the same production values or studio gloss from an out-of-pocket funded album. Still my major critique of this album is that I’m not particularly thrilled by the mixing. I know that is sort of a technical bullshit nitpick that won’t bother most people who check this album out, but as an audiophile nothing pisses me off more than one instrument reigning dominance throughout one channel of my headphone. Sweeping or spiraling crescendos are usually found in the left channel while the primary guitar track can often be found in the right channel. Luckily, there is a little inconsistency with the mix so this isn’t always the case, but a more dynamic range would have been the cherry on top for me when it comes to “Expeditions”.
I managed to get through the entire review up to this point without this comparison, but here it goes, in case you are wondering. Fans of the likes of Cloudkicker and Pelican will definitely enjoy this release. “Expeditions” hits our radar as an early contender for debut album of the year and should hit your speakers/headphones/etc as soon as possible if you’re looking for that first great loud and in your face release of 2014.
tags: instrumental metal rock ambient instrumental post-hardcore post-metal post-rock progressive progressive metal Tallinn