The Climate Warms, …And Oceans Rise, And Oceans Fall (The Jakobstad Chronicles Pt.1)
So this might very well be your last chance to get learnt on a piece of Finnish metal history before we all drown in what once was glaciers and get a glimpse of what the future could have held if you had given a shit. It’s a long one boys, unlike the remaining lifespan of this planet, so reserve an afternoon. Or three.
It could be said, and it would not fundamentally be a lie, that it all began in Pietarsaari. The rest is up for debate. But how I’ve chosen to believe it is that it was a particularly warm mid-winter’s day in 1989 when three men, who are about to become essential to our story, named their fledgling death metal band after a Carcass song. And verily did they follow with haste on the tracks of medical conditions inspired, groggy & grindy death metal that the Britons had lain. As it often goes with things that move fast and burn bright, they moved with such haste that it was after only 3 demos, a split and approximately three years that Festerday, as their chosen name had been, reached the end of their days.
The three men, Teemu Saari & Timo Kontio with their guitars and Kena Strömsholm with his vocal cords, went on to experiment in different bands and line-ups, but by 1995 they found themselves together again, with a mysterious man known only as Mr. Oos supplying bass frequencies for the group. They wrote, recorded and released a demo by the name of Wave under a new moniker. …And Oceans was born. The band that is, I highly suspect oceans composed of large masses of water and not of people of varying sizes had existed for some time by then.
It was no longer the star of the putrefying imperialist swine that was being followed, but rather a colder one that shone a dark light upon the quartet’s black metal. Or rather, would come to shine, since Wave had not yet embraced the coldness and it sounds more like a mish-mash of ideas from here and there, not too firmly lodged in any particular style of metal. The demo was driven by melodic and thrashy riffing but refers to both death metal influenced ideas and the sound they would later embrace.
Though in the hallowed name of Lady Veritas, not much of Wave would remain intact in the band’s DNA. The structural language of individual motifs can perhaps be traced back here, but the most important feature already in place is something that could erroneously be called “humour.” Songs with titles such as “I’m The Disco, I’m The Dancefloor” or “Kiss of a Dove” don’t evoke the grimmest tones so many black metal bands wished to invite, but …And Oceans would never let go of this trait, continuing to give their songs such titles even if the lyrics could at times follow much more serious lines than they would hint at. This attitude set them apart from the hordes following the aesthetic; instead, they mythologized and mystified to death and were caught in a perpetual vortex of persistent and calculated misunderstanding that would be further explored in stage attire that would incorporate colourful latex, heads painted blue and dancing in white dresses.
When the follow-up Mare Liberum did finally arrive, delayed, the world had turned to the year 1998 and the band had embraced new stage names; such grim examples as K-2T4-S, de Monde and Neptune rose to forefront of their frontal lobes.The lineup was fortified with drummer Grief/Martex of True Black Dawn and keyboardist Anzhaar/Plasmaar, and together they elected to move towards the symphonic reaches of black metal at last. All of the song titles and much of the lyrics had been given a new guise in the form of the Swedish language. It would gain the band enough recognition to be signed to the (then new) label Season of Mist who would release their debut, The Dynamic Gallery of Thoughts, later that year. Or earlier, since Mare Liberum would appear to have been delayed until mid-1998 from its intended 1997 release date. Maybe. I can’t be expected to remember all of this. Expect errors.
As Mare Liberum was re-recorded for The Dynamic Gallery of Thoughts in its entirety, the two remain stylistically similar. Keyboards don’t entirely dominate the soundscape, though they are very prominent and largely lead the compositions, leaving the guitars to chiefly handle the rhythmic and atmospheric domains. The latter’s meaty bass tone makes them very pleasing for the ear and some of the newer songs,”Je Te Connais Beau Masque,” for example, are sung in several languages, (none of them French), break out for more independent riffing, and never is the band’s string trio truly content on just keeping pace.
Kena’s vocals and Anzhaar’s key arrangements are mostly responsible for the album’s engaging diversity, with the former supplying a full scale of growls and shrieks, fortifying them with all manner of noises and a dragon’s-nether-region-tingling opening scream on “Samtal Med Tankar – Halo of Words,” the likes of which wouldn’t be lost on a power metal song. The keyboard arrangements don’t ever seek to drown the composition in their pomp, and many of the songs take advantage of slower paced, almost meditative tones and spacey effects, not entirely unlike some eerily hopeful video game soundtracks of the time; this helps the band avoid the most common kind of cheesiness encountered in their ilk, and sets The Dynamic Gallery of Thoughts apart from basically every album ever made that is not TDGoT.
It was not too long after the fact that Season of Mist (I guess “Autumn” didn’t sound as kvlt-konvincing a label name) asked the band to be a part of the very first release in the series of splits known collectively as the War-series. Their companions on the release would be the Norwegian Bloodthorn, and both bands would contribute not only a cover of each others’ song and another from the catalogue of G.G.F.H, but also two new originals. In the case of …And Oceans, these new tracks would come in the form of “…Ja Kylmä Vesi Nuolee Oksaa” & “100 Meters Final – Accelerate.” Moving away from the spaced-out tones of TDGoT and towards busier arrangements in both string and key departments (though some of the newer tracks on the debut already hinted at this), their portion of the comp works as something of a bridge between the first two records.
At some point after Wave, Mr. Oos’ first name had been revealed to be Gaunt. Yes, Gaunt Oos, of Ostrobothnian origin, no doubt. On these latest recordings, he had taken use of that name, so it was not entirely an un-confusing move to replace him with Mika Aalto, best known as the founding guitarist of Rotten Sound, after the War -split. Aalto himself had previously been known as Gaunt in True Black Dawn, and would continue to be known by the name after joining …And Oceans’ ranks.
This slightly renewed line-up (that also included a singing ventriloquist dummy named You) would proceed to record The Symmetry of I, The Circle of O, originally released as a double album with discs subtitled I and O in early 1999, but better known today as the version with only the first of the two halves. The record was mastered by the none other than James Murphy of Testament, Death & Obituary fame (yes, I’m name dropping for the sheer pleasure derived from it; coincidentally the only other wordsmithing …And Oceans fan/enjoyer around here that I recall also recently professed to doing this. I wonder if there’s a calculable relation between the three things).
Now if I said that I had said something about busier key & string arrangements, would you remember it? No? Good, because I lied. There was, however, a better balance between the guitars and keys. More distinct and separate riffs and guitar melodies carried the compositions this time around, as demonstrated on “Aquarium of Children – Ajatusten Merenpinta” or a personal favourite—”I Wish I Was Pregnant.” The keys had given up the spacey, meditative tones, though some songs like “Sålipsism” still featured unusually calm key motifs, only executed with more casual tones.
That is to say, the first of the two discs followed these lines, while the second, O, sought out different waters. Instrumental in it’s approach, it featured a more electronic approach with songs in the vein of ambient and industrial music. I cannot truthfully claim to return to it nearly as much as I, but cuts like “Injected With Silence,” “Higher Levels of Microbotic Fields” and “Molecules” have never entirely left rotation either.
Soon after, Martikkala, Saari, Strämsholm, Kontio and Aalto founded a side-project also named O, a much rawer group of twisted, primal black metal with abstract and unintelligible themes. The group released two songs as a split with Flauros in 2000, and later re-released their half as a self-titled EP in 2004. The base riffing draws heavy parallels to …And Oceans, but in a much more hateful, violent and heavy guise—essentially extracting one aspect of the main group’s music and imbuing it with elements that had lain relatively dormant ‘neath the waves. Even the logo draws parallels to …And Oceans’, by extracting its middle point for its own ends and purposes.
And this is where we must leave our heroes. In the middle of the road, gathering strength to enter the studio to record their third full-length album. And it is here that we shall meet them again, with all their side-projects and shenanigans. When the time comes.