Oceans Ate Alaska – ‘Hikari’ (Album Review)

Oceans Ate Alaska have found a solid solution to Second Album Syndrome. Too many bands fall at that fateful hurdle and sink swiftly into creative oblivion. Oceans Ate Alaska, on the other hand, have pulled off what can only be described as a win.

These guys have already made themselves synonymous with stuttering tech-riffage, progressive tangents, and face-searing extreme metal mastery. They’ve also always peppered their music with accessible pop-punky sections, thus providing a welcome respite from potentially overwhelming brutality. Oceans Ate Alaska’s debut Lost Isles made it more than clear that this Birmingham-based quintet were on to something big.

Since that first long-player, Oceans Ate Alaska have had to deal with issues both personal and creative – and Hikari is the end product of a no doubt tempestuous process. Hikari features new vocalist Jake Noakes, traditional Japanese instruments, and an underlying theme based upon Samurai mythology. Your average tech-metal excursion this is not.

At the moment, technical and progressive bands aplenty are giving in to the seductive lure of the djent trend and sounding like Meshuggah clones. Oceans Ate Alaska deserve respect simply for their refusal to give up their individuality, but Hikari provides plenty of other reasons in the event that bloody-minded nonconformity is not considered enough. Instead of opening this album with a gasp and a scream and a riff, or some increasingly stock synthetic atmospherics, Benzaiten builds anticipation with some serene and beautiful oriental vibes before OAA’s signature stutter-riffs enter hesitantly and death growls herald frantic, full-tilt extremity. Then comes confident tapping beneath some catchy clean vocals and a return to death-ridden darkness.

Calling an album a journey, comparing it to a rollercoaster, or declaring it full of twists and turns are all common clichés, but each one applies fully to Hikari. Oceans Ate Alaska don’t maintain the same vibe for long, constantly switching focus from the blisteringly heavy to the low-key, the tense, the slickly emotional, and even the acoustic, as toward the end of Covert. Hansha also proved an early standout, summoning glitchy electronic pop and infusing it with head-bobbing metalcore grooves and a sick fuck-you-we’re-not-going-soft beatdown.

The fact that Oceans Ate Alaska are able to blend some massively contrasting genres together is fucking incredible – and the degree of seamlessness involved here really pushes Hikari over the edge. Then Deadweight gets going with terrifying tapping runs and lightspeed double-kick work, and we’re back to business as usual. Business as usual for Oceans Ate Alaska, at least.

More tangential moments are still to come – especially during two-minute interlude Veridical, bestial riff-monster Entrapment, and of course title track Hikari. Here, Oceans Ate Alaska jump into jazzy territory, playing around with space and acoustic instruments before slowly building a distorted monolith and closing on some sharp-edged slap bass falling somewhere near to Animals As Leaders. Then it’s a clear run through a Birth-Marked hailstorm, the briefly calming Ukiyo, and Escapist’s all-out assault – finishing at last on one more mix of Japanese elegance and metallic anxiety-twitches.

Every so often I feel convinced I’ve heard it all before, especially when it comes to metal. So much ground has already been covered that it’s hard to envision what might be left. Nonetheless, Oceans Ate Alaska are about to drop an album whose name – Hikari – literally translates into English as “light,” and is shining on the start of a new path they can officially call their own.

LTK RATING: 95% (Essential Listening!)

Hikari drops July 28; pre-order it on iTunes here.

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Posted on 20 July 2017

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