For Fans Of
Since 2015’s killer ‘Black Label’ EP, I’ve often wondered where exactly Melbourne’s Ocean Grove would go next with their dark, nu-metal-meets-metalcore sound and aesthetic.
I now have my answer: not anywhere that I expected.
Hints of this change came with ‘These Boys Light Fires’, which indicated a slightly less heavy and somewhat more approachable sound for the group. Then, just five days before Christmas of 2016, they dropped their nu-metal banger, ‘Intimate Alien’, a song that Jonathan Davis and co. would be more than proud of with its eerie guitar leads and head-bobbing rhythms. As a quick FYI, both songs appear on this debut record and they don’t have the issue of being released too early in advance that they simply feel shoe-horned in (I’m looking at you, Graves). And so, with these two singles released and after weeks of having my own expectations boil up inside finally came the email from UNFD earlier this month with the link to the Ocean Grove’s debut album – ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’.
Now, ‘rhapsody’ means an instrumental composition that is irregular in form and one that is emotional or exuberant in its character and feeling, and nothing could sum up Ocean Grove’s character on their debut record better than that; emotion and feeling, baby.
Let me state unequivocally that this record is not ‘Black Label Part 2’, but rather… something else, something different. The heavier undertones of that prior release are here, you’ll just find them in much smaller doses is all. Nothing marks this change of pace and grander ambition clearer than the first two songs, ‘What I Love About A Natural Woman’ and ‘Beers’. As far as intro songs go, the former is a damned good one at that, with it being a Death Grips-like tune of swirling distorted riffs, pumping percussion, direct and gritty vocals, and harsh, noisy synths that continually rear their ugly head. The latter is more akin to that of ‘These Boys Light Fires’. It’s a song of brisk tempo, bright, driving guitar riffs, Sam Bassal’s snappy percussion, matched with soaring choruses and bouncy verses, ensuring that it has ‘live anthem’ written all fucking over it.
So right out of the gate, we have the unfamiliar and the familiar, and this is something that the band sticks to on this record; meeting your expectations with and then completely curve-balling you and subverting them. For if the strangest thing about ‘Black Label’ was the dynamic, atmospheric reprieve of ‘Diploid’, then this debut album has got its predecessor beat in terms of musical variety, contrasting ideas, and its sheer sense of scope. Because this is not the Ocean Grove you once knew, son.
‘Thunderdome‘, which early on features studio member, Running Touch (that’s the steampunk dude from their music videos who looks like he just stepped off a Mad Max film set), shows the band setting their sights on a more “mainstream” crowd rather than a purely hardcore/metalcore audience. Yet it works and you wanna know the best part? It doesn’t at all feel contrived!
The album’s emotional highpoint is without a doubt ‘Mr Centipede’. The almost-pleading nature of the lyrics and guitar melodies is palpable, and it’s here that the band shows how they’ve not only matured as people but also how they’ve excelled as songwriters; songwriters that are capable of creating epic, emotive soundscapes that are all finely balanced between whatever genre and tone they wish to skillfully employ. The very same can be said for the sleeper hit, ‘When You’re This High You Can Say Whatever You Want’, and ‘The Wrong Way’. The latter of which is this grungy track that one would expect to hear from Silverchair or Powderfinger, and not from a bunch of oddball hardcore kids from Melbourne’s suburbs. And that brings me to a key distinction about ‘The Rhapsody Tapes‘, and that’s that it is so much more than just a “heavy” record. It’s songs like ‘The Wrong Way’ and ‘Mr Centipede’ that show how far this band have come and where they potentially aim to take their music in the future. Whether they become heavier or nor, and despite the scene they originated from, they’ll be very well-equipped as bassist Dale Tanner’s voice holds up within their lighter or heavier forms. See, Tanner has some actual grit and warmth to his vocals, they work well in contrast to those of frontman Luke Holmes, and they aren’t an over-pitch corrected mess of vocal layering, like some of this group’s bigger and smaller peers.
What I truly love about this album is that while it’s definitely a different musical route for the band, it’s an interesting yet feasible path for them to take, and that’s why it doesn’t feel at all forced. Case firmly in my point, the bizarre, out-of-left-field dub track, ‘Slow Soap Soak’. (Jesus Christ, try saying that shit ten times in a row.) This short-lived track is actually one of the album’s real gems to be found, what with its churning synths and bass and its cranking live drums. Oh, and I think that Suicide Silence could really learn a few things about doing high-pitched vocals from this song instead of the weak, scratch track delivery that was ‘Doris‘.
Anyway, from the wonderful weirdness of Ocean Grove’s minds comes the late game head turner, ‘From Dalight’, a dark drum & bass track that’s also made up of eerie atmospherics, deadpan vocals, and with zero guitars or screaming. It’s odd, but strangle me while I cum, so is everything else about this fuckin’ album! If it hasn’t set in by this point, then by the time that ‘From Dalight‘ squares you up, it should be as clear as possible – “you best expect the unexpected here.”
Entering the final stretch, ‘Stratosphere Love‘ is one dirty track, with crunchy, heavy riffs, Holmes‘ filthy yet solid screams and the closest thing that this band gets to a breakdown these days. This is also the final heavy swing for ‘The Rhapsody Tapes‘, as this exceptional album – one that’s taken you all the way from heavy nu-metal jams, to grimy hip-hop, drum n bass, right over to soaring alternative rock anthems – wraps up with ‘Hitachi‘. ‘Hitachi‘ is this low-key affair of dark atmospherics, soft, crooning vocals, and acoustic guitar, with those high-pitched, edited vocal parts that far too many pop artists relied on last year. Yeah, by this point, I probably should have seen something like this coming, yet it still caught me off-guard the first time I heard it. So whereas this album started off in a loud, defiantly expressive manner, it comes to end in a dark, delicate whisper, but a rather anti-climactic whisper, I must admit and it’s perhaps the only song here that I don’t fully admire.
As I’ve stated previously, you really have to expect the unexpected here because this album is a hefty left turn for Ocean Grove, one that I’m sure will leave some listeners confused, excited, or perhaps even disappointed. But the risk of inspiring or intimately alienating fans is to be expected when you have full creative control and aim to do what’s right for you and your band’s music. For reading over the album’s official website, The Rhapsody Manifesto, you will find a band that is going to great lengths to ensure their aesthetic and their artistic mission statement is not misinterpreted nor ignored and constrained by any singular sound or idea. Of course, while left-of-center aesthetics and visual eccentricity are all well and good, you do need good music to back it all up, less you risk being like Die Antwood. But thankfully, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Ocean Grove have delivered the goods here and then some.
If this is what “Odd World Music” sounds like, then I am completely onboard!
Ocean Grove is now sticking out of the UNFD roster like a weird, sore thumb, yet that is for the best! With ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’, the quintet has challenged the preconceived notions of their art and music from both fans and detractors alike. Ocean Grove has shifted their crosshairs away from these mid-tier local milestones and positioned their sights higher towards that of headlining festival slots and playing bigger and better venues with their debut record; a record that is not only crammed full of new classics but is also their best work yet. Their overall goal may not be that of headlining festivals, but that’s where they might just end up if they keep maintaining this kind of stellar output.
So to steal a line from the album’s opening song, Ocean Grove is currently “standing on the precipice of what is and what may be”, and that “what may be” could very well become a reality for them with ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’.
Well, I sincerely hope so, anyway.
- What I Love About A Natural Woman
- Thunderdome (feat. Running Touch)
- Intimate Alien
- The Wrong Way
- Slow Soap Soak
- These Boys Light Fires
- When You’re This High You Can Say What You Like
- Mr Centipede
- From Dalight
- Stratosphere Love
‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ is out February 3rd via UNFD.