Oceans – Hell Is Where the Heart Is


Austro-German quartet, Oceans, take pride in defying classification. As one of the best kept secrets on the Nuclear Blast roster, their 2020 debut, The Sun and the Cold, introduced a new kind of atmospheric and riff-heavy metal with elements of Behemoth, Celeste and even Kataklysm in their music. Last year’s We Are Nøt Okay EP represented a departure from this sound but still captured the essence of the band’s primal aggression. So, why on earth did they think the next logical step from here should be a descent into nu metal? Hell Is Where the Heart Is will disappoint many of the old fanbase and will baffle those that admire the band from a distance.

Oceans never do anything by convention, and the way they prefaced the twelve tracks on this album as three EPs (four songs on each) means all of this material is already in the public domain. The change of direction should not come as a surprise if you were listening from the start, but this record is underwhelming as a combination of its three component parts. You know in the first ten seconds of the mono guitar riff to ‘The Awakening’ that Oceans have ditched their progressive death metal records in favour of Slipknot. Timo Schwämmlein’s cannibalistic vocals retain their bloodthirsty enunciation in the heavier segments, and the grimy bass guitar notes are uglier than a road accident, but the band are too quick to reach for the chorus. This would be tolerable if not for the blatant pastiche of Korn’s Jonathan Davis in the middle eight. How can you go from a post-black metal/metalcore hybrid to something a regressive as this in one album?

In their defence, Oceans approach the nu metal angle from the extreme end of the spectrum where Slipknot sit as the genre’s outlier band. Like the Des Moines icons, they thrive on chaos and sharp dynamics. ‘Sulfur’ produces a remarkable performance on the drum stool from J.F. Grill, and the cameo of death metal tremolo riffing would be even more enjoyable if they stretched it out further. The lyrics leave nothing to the imagination: “I hope you die, you stupid fuck!/ Can you feel my middle finger/ Tearing out your heart/ Every fucking word I say/ Leaves a scar,” roars Schwämmlein. Do you want to listen to a cold misanthrope spew his guts and shred his heart in the aftermath of a relationship breakup? Well, you have no choice. The message of this album is a self-destructive one: “Will you please stay with me? /’Cos without you I cannot breathe.”

Hell Is Where the Heart Is wastes so many good opportunities to persuade you of its merits. ‘Home’ starts like a typical European metalcore song with droning guitars and melodic chorus vocals. You hope the tempo change in the middle eight will rouse them out of their slumber, but they stick with an Architects sound and squander the moment. There’s always a threat they might go berserk with no warning on ‘I Want to be Whole Again’, but the easy option to stay within the confines of a pop structure prevent any radical ideas maturing in this composition. You’re right to roll your eyes when the opening line of “Fuck this shit, Goddamnit,” introduces the mosh-friendly groove to ‘Living = Dying’. Is this the same band that produced the awesome progressive post-metal of ‘We Are the Storm’ only two years ago?

The salvage operation in the last third of this LP is an impossible task, but Oceans refuse to go without a fight. The nod to Machine’s Head ‘Darkness Within’ on ‘If There’s a God She has Abandoned Us’ will take a couple of listens to appreciate, but it’ll stick on the third attempt. And why couldn’t they write more songs like the remarkable title track? This one spills its blood on the carpet and reaches for the goriest death metal transgressions. It’s the one success on the album and a reminder that Oceans have plenty of talent and imagination when they decide to be themselves rather than a Slipknot clone.

Where they go from here is a dilemma few artists would envy. They took a risk, and it backfired. Oceans will need an almighty effort on their next record to win back the sceptics.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 25/11/2022

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Sulfur; Skin; Hell Is Where the Heart Is

Suggested Further Listening: Architects – The Classic Symptoms of a Broken Spirit (2022), Korn – Issues (1999), Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter (2014)