There’s always a band that creeps under the radar for years. You hear whispers about them, friends mention them in passing, comments reference them on social media. You make a mental note to check them out and then it drifts out of the memory. And then one day their latest album lands in the Inbox to review…. and you wonder what the hell you’ve been doing with your life!
Such is the position with Finland’s …and Oceans. Having taken 18 years to follow-up 2002’s Cypher with 2020’s Cosmic World Mother, they now present what is likely to be a contender for symphonic black metal album of 2023 with their sixth album, As In Gardens, So In Tombs.
This is simply a phenomenal piece of work. The song writing is adventurous, expansive, progressive, and yet reassuringly familiar in many ways. Of course, we have the growling vocals, the blisteringly-paced blast beats and ice wall after ice wall of cold riffing that’s expected, but, as with the best of this genre, …and Oceans succeed in underpinning their ferocious onslaught with huge orchestral movements; including flourishes that move from light to dark and back again at an intensity that’s remarkable, alongside ethereal touches that prove that subtle segments can and do work here.
With their first ‘comeback’ completed, the band appear much more at ease with this release. Guitarist Timo Kontio acknowledged this himself. “When we started to make this album, it was more relaxed and more or less go with the flow mentality. We had the first ‘difficult comeback album’ done, and everything came quite easily! It was really refreshing to make this kind of music after so long”.
It shows! The line-up has now fully gelled and while only Kontio and fellow guitarist Teemu Saari remaini from the original line-up, the rest of the band are now comfortably into album number two and full of confidence. In paticular, vocalist Mathias Lillmåns (who only joined the band in the months before Cosmic World Mother) gives a commanding performance, with his gravel throated roars providing focus throughout; screams so unworldly they send chills down the spine. Meanwhile, there is only admiration for the sheer battery that drummer Kauko Kuusisalo can conjure. A real blitzkrieg behind the kit, his work is often breathtaking.
It’s the title track that opens the 12 tracks contained here, and it’s a monstrous opening, full of grand soundscapes – with the orchestral elements sounding huge yet never swamping the rawness of the band’s delivery. It’s majestic, swirling and swooping with massive commitment. And there are melodies that underpin each song, even if at times you have to work to hear them. “Within Fire and Crystal” for example, sweeps you along in a maelstrom of darkness, yet it’s a measured and controlled chaos that the band generate.
At times the sonic creations that …and Oceans craft are beyond reproach. They don’t overdo their songs, favouring shorter, five-minute tracks to multiple epics. But when they do hit full drama, as they manage on the seven-minute plus “Ambivalent God”, they take the opportunity to open those creative wings and fly with yet another fluid, uplifting and imposing song.
As In Gardens, So In Tombs is a lengthy beast…. but it doesn’t feel like it! And, by the time you are reflecting on the magnificent closing blasts of “Third Eye Catalyst”, the only question on your mind is whether you have time to play it all over again. Because, As In Gardens, So In Tombs is simply that good. 9/10
…and Oceans’ As In Gardens, So In Tombs was released via Season of Mist on 27th January, 2023.