Album Title: The Pattern
Label: Time To Kill Records
Date of Release: 29 January 2021
Twenty-seven years ago, I had just entered my teens and I was in the early stages of one of the most important, engrossing, and rewarding journeys of my life – the journey of discovery into the realms of heavy metal. Over in Italy, a trio of musicians were putting together a demo. The trio comprised multi-instrumentalist Massimiliano Pagliuso (Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards), guitarist Gianpaolo Caprino, and drummer Alessandro “Sancho” Marconcini. They went by the name of Oceana but, after a debut EP was released, nothing. Not a dickie bird. As it happens, Pagliuso joined Novembre and so Oceana was put on the shelf having decided that it was impossible to commit enough to both bands at the time.
Fast-forward to 2021 and here we have, finally, their debut full-length release, ‘The Pattern’. It is adorned with gorgeous cover art courtesy of the renowned Travis Smith, something that will always make me sit up and take notice. But, more importantly, from a musical standpoint, was the 27-year wait worth it, or should Oceana have remained on the shelf to gather dust for eternity?
Without a shadow of doubt, I am delighted that ‘The Pattern’ has been released. I know it is early in the year, but I already have a contender for ‘discovery of the year’.
Musically, Oceana are difficult to accurately pigeonhole and that’s one of the best things about them if I’m honest. Naturally, over two decades of work with Novembre has rubbed off, especially given that Massimiliano Pagliuso is the driving force of the band. As such, the Oceana sound displays gruff vocals and more than a hint of the dark, doomy atmosphere that so effortlessly coats the Novembre sound, alongside some delicious crunchy riffs. But Oceana also bring more melody to the table, or at least more melody that I connect with. And this trio have a demonstrably stronger progressive bent. At times, the music sounds like it’s prog death in the best 90s mould. But then you’re hit with clean vocals, or soaring passages of quieter, more nuanced elegance. And yet, despite sounding like it might be a jarring, clunky mess, the final result is remarkably smooth and well-constructed.
The album also sounds pretty great, thanks to a production job handled by Pagliuso himself alongside Guiseppe Orlando (The Outer Sound Studios), as well as a final mix from Mr Dan Swanö. The production certainly helps to maintain that feeling of overall smoothness, despite the mixture of styles going on within the eleven compositions.
Whilst the entire record has merit, the undisputed jewel in the crown has to be the 14-minute epic ‘Atlantidea Suite Part 1’. It was apparently written back in the late 90s but never saw the light of day given the fate of Oceana at the time. It doesn’t sound like it was written over two decades ago because it’s a masterfully composed piece of music that sounds fresh, vibrant and offers just about everything that Oceana do well.
Heavy, purposeful riffs blend with striking lead licks, embellishments, and solo flourishes, although the latter are kept to an absolute minimum. The bass rumbles authoritatively, accenting the clear, crisp drumming nicely. The vocals shift from deeply Gothic at the outset, to a smooth clean tone. And then, as the song demands, from a gravelly Hetfield, to a throat-breaking growl, not dissimilar at times to those of Crematory’s Gerhard “Felix” Stass. The keys are subtle throughout, there to add a touch of atmosphere and depth to the overall sound rather than dominate. The dynamics are great, as we’re taken through a soundscape that is brutal and uncompromising one minute, only to soothe and embrace us the next. And there are plenty of melodies both front and centre, and more well-hidden, lurking in the depths to be discovered on repeated listens. And whilst the composition is surprisingly engaging from the first spin, it requires repeated plays to get to grips with everything that’s being offered – the perfect balance as far as I’m concerned.
Whenever ‘prog’ is referenced, it can be all too easy to mention the name Dream Theater as a descriptor. However, on this occasion, it is justified, as the likes of ‘You Don’t Know’ and ‘Hiding Lies’ demonstrably attest. The former is the final song, but it has some gorgeous touches, especially in the guitars that call to mind Petrucci and co. The latter is the opener that is a masterclass in marrying the gruff and clean approaches, as it starts off serenely before exploding with venom, with a fair few thrash touches. But it carries a strong melody throughout that becomes rather addictive as the listens rack up effortlessly.
The album as a whole is a highlight, but other tracks that stand out to me include ‘Violet’ thanks to it’s elegant brutality mixed with pronounced sections of melodic minimalism and undeniable groove. And then there’s the faster-paced, power metal-like urgency of ‘A friend’ which is a shorter, but no less enjoyable track.
Funnily enough, I’d argue that the cover of Metallica’s ‘The Unforgiven’ is largely unnecessary, as Oceana’s original material is perfectly strong enough to keep my attention throughout. It serves, if nothing else, to underline the quality of Oceana’s music, if a cover of one of my all-time favourite songs is regarded as a little redundant.
‘The Pattern’ has literally come out of nowhere to impress me an awful lot. It may have taken 27 years to be released, but I’m just glad that it finally sees the light of day because to not let the world hear this excellent music would be a travesty. If you are someone that enjoys progressive music on the heavier side, or even if you’re a fan of melodic heavy music, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you investigate Oceana and their incredibly high quality debut album, ‘The Pattern’ as quickly as possible. Now, where’s my wallet?
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: