I Hate Records (13 June 2014)
Ocean Chief’s fifth album is an insane and sometimes brilliant ride through time and space to explore the origins of the universe. And, echoing the creative explosion of the Big Bang, the band have thrown a million elements into the production of their new full-length release; random molecules that create weird new life forms. Sweden’s Ocean Chief possess a natural and impressive ability to be difficult to categorise. They’re sometimes inaccessible too, not because their brand of sludge is too brutal, but because they create songs that are as bewildering as they are surprising.
It’s fascinating to hear a band experimenting with its sound and musical possibilities, and some of the tracks open up curious new possibilities. Epic sludge doom, anyone? Stoner death? Ocean Chief’s core sound is undoubtedly dark and distorted, but they do not limit themselves to laborious drone-fests. Each song is a new discovery.
The opening track, for example, is fairly complex and disorientating; a dense sludgy blend that changes direction like a springbok evading a lion – only in ultra-slow-motion. Where the epicness flourishes, such as on the sublime ‘Oandlighet’, the band shows its spectacular side with stunning guitar harmonies and gut-wrenching vocals. Elsewhere on the album, Ocean Chief embark on a kind of angry stoner trip, muddying the water further with some death metal-style vocals. Moments later, psychedelic, Trouble-esque tones mix with YOB-ish power. There’s some hardcore riffage. A Quorthon-style guitar solo… what’s going on???
The penultimate ‘Morker’ returns to crushing, creeping sludge and this nine-minute track features some truly huge, glorious passages of woe and desolation – the black chasm of space perhaps – with hints of old-school Paradise Lost and Entombed. The album closes with ‘Vandringen’, an immense, synth-driven beast, ensuring that ‘Universums Härd’ goes out on a high.
Vocally, Tobias Larsson sounds like a young Tom G Warrior gargling a pint of hydrofluoric acid – he seems most comfortable when sticking to the caustic vocal violence, and is slightly strained when delivering the more melodic parts over the top of the searing, soaring guitars. His performance, though, is raw, intense and emotive.
Ocean Chief are a band who are always full of ideas and do things their own way. ‘Universums Härd’ poses as many questions as it provides answers. Individually, the songs themselves are often great, but things go a little off-piste around the album’s middle section and that lack of cohesion can leave you feeling a little distanced and not quite sure what just happened. Overall, the album brings you some great slow, doom-laden, expansive sludge, with more than a few surprises along the way.