Artist: Oceans Ate Alaska
Before the concept of “good” and “evil”—prior to the conflict between “right” and “wrong” or “legal” and “illegal,” there was the dichotomy between dark and light. A struggle as old (or potentially older) than time itself, the split between darkness and illumination is something society itself has been built around—our 24-hour clock, the workday and the nightlife, hell, even the biochemistry behind our circadian rhythms—all dependent on differentiating between darkness and light. It’s a delicate balance, and when it becomes thrown out of whack, everything about our biological equilibrium goes with it. Whether it’s as natural as the radiation from the sun or as artificial as an LED bulb, we need light; it might not get the same respect that air, water or food get, but it can still be damn hard to live without.
For fans of heavy music, this dependence takes on a new meaning with the release of Oceans Ate Alaska’s 2017 progressive metalcore masterpiece, Hikari. Literally translating to “light,” Hikari is anything but—just over a half hour of hectic grooves and sporadic brutality intermingled with uplifting melody and magnificent technicality, Oceans Ate Alaska take the highlights from their sophomore record and expand upon them, cutting down on the superfluous elements to give a much more focused and intense experience, seeing the band craft a comprehensive album that’s much more memorable and easy to enjoy than it’s predecessor.
Those who might fear that Oceans Ate Alaska lost their edge and absurdity in the time that passed since Lost Isles can lay those concerns to rest with Hikari. While there are moments of melody and atmosphere abundant throughout the album’s moderate run time, the first sounds the listener is exposed to are those of crunchy, soul-smothering heaviness. Percussionist Chris Turner is as excellent as always, with dazzling fills and furious footwork on “Benzaiten” and “Sarin” both, and odd time signatures that flow into fun, bouncy patterns on songs like “Covert” or “Hansha,” Turner’s talent is never once in question. For better or worse, Turner never quite shows off as much as he did on songs like “FourThirtyTwo” or “High Horse” from Lost Isles, he still works diligently throughout the duration of Hikari, boasting his skills in less obvious ways. What might be just as impressive is how easily bassist Mike Stanton is able to keep up—especially on the diverse “Hansha” or cruel “Benzaiten,” where Turner goes from mellow, subdued background noise to raunchy, dizzying intricacy—even then, Stanton never fails to keep pace. Together, Stanton and Turner create a foundation for the stellar-and-spazzy riffs and grooves of guitarists James Kennedy and Adam Zytkiewicz. This duo are dazzling from start to finish, with songs like “Deadweight” highlighting their talents. From the very start of “Deadweight,” every musician in Oceans Ate Alaska are at the tip-top of their game—from Turner’s feet to Kennedy and Zytkiewicz’s fingers. Combining ambient moments of progressively-tinted atmosphere and ethereality with abusive aggression and belligerent brutality, the duo chug, shred and djent their way through all 30-plus minutes of Hikari, embracing darkness just as much as they do light.
From the very onset of “Benzaiten,” the most obvious change-up on Oceans Ate Alaska’s dynamic isn’t Turner’s more moderate percussion or the band’s more fluid, cohesive dynamic–it’s the voice at the front of the band, that of Jake Noakes. Sounding much less like Danny Worsnop 2.0 and more like a unique and talented frontman, Noakes hits grisly low bellows and shrill, sinister shrieks from his baseline mid-range shout. Hikari starts with a stellar example of the former, while songs like “Covert” offer a more moderate example of his skills. “Entrapment,” however, as well as the ultra-catchy “Hansha,” see his raw and ruthless screams sharing the limelight with his excellent singing voice—the greatest departure from the Oceans Ate Alaska of 2015 and prior. Noakes’ screams may not be quite as well rounded, but they’re much more intense—and his singing voice offers newfound clarity and diversity that drops the listener’s jaw. Working with the curious sampling on “Hansha” like a charm, and captivating the listener’s head on “Entrapment,” Noakes’ vocals add an extra something to Hikari that makes it just that much better and more entrancing.
Every aspect of Oceans Ate Alaska’s sound and style is tighter than ever before on Hikari. Shaving ten minutes off of Lost Isles yet feeling miraculously more complete, the band’s latest effort is certainly their best yet. More than that, even, the act creates an album that stands out amid thousands of other artists releasing strong albums this year. While it isn’t a competition, without an album that brings something new or different to the table, it’s difficult to remain memorable—and Oceans Ate Alaska do that better than 95% of their peers. While much of the 34 minutes that is Hikari seems to be spent instrumentally, those moments are still enjoyable, even if they make the listener pine ever so slightly for Noakes’ voice. Hikari embodies the struggle between the cruel, relentless reign of darkness and the soft, spiritually soothing nature of light—creating a dialectic that demands to be heard in the process.
For Fans Of: Architects, Polar, Make Them Suffer, Structures
By: Connor Welsh