In December 2016 Birmingham Tech-Metallers Oceans Ate Alaska announced the departure of original frontman James Harrison alongside the news that they were going into the studio to record a new album. It wasn’t until 1st February, with the album completed, that they announced their new vocalist as James Noakes, formerly of Derby Metalcore quintet LagunaSunrise, had stepped in. It was late May however, before anyone got to sample anything from the re-tooled line-up, when single “Covert” dropped.
The issue with replacing any frontman is always the focal point they create with fans of the band. In James Harrison, Oceans Ate Alska had a vocalist of phenomenal range, able to carry of some beautiful clean vocals as well as some brutal uncleans and switch effortlessly between the two. After opening song “Benzaiten”, which also features Alex Teyen of BlackTongue, it’s abundantly clear that not only is Jake Noakes a more than capable vocalist in his own right, but he is able to impose his own style on Oceans Ate Alaska’s sound without taking anything away. The band clearly worked hard to find someone suitable and it paid off big style. The song itself starts with some ancient Japanese instrumental sounds before stepping up into some trademark off kilter riffage and throat shredding unclean vocals. Getting to an early clean vocal bridge showcases Noaks vocal range in full and introduces blast beats from the very start of the album. Buried electronic add an extra layer of depth to the crushing guitar tones. “Sarin” brings a pause break effect to all of the instrumentation with spasmodic temporary pauses in guitars, drums and bass as the sound moves between passages. The song features some of the bands more thought provoking lyrics while also encapsulating the full breadth of the bands song in a single song. The melodies are given space to breathe while the heavier, more technical aspects bring in the bounce, groove and bite. “Covert” builds nicely on “Sarin” with a gang chant and sing-a-long chorus lines around a swirling guitar pattern. It’s an obvious single and it’s no surprise that it was the first one for the album. The songs acoustic passage closing adds a palette cleansing touch.
Rather than biting in with the heavier side of the bands sound after the palette cleanser, “Hansha” takes a slow burn fade in approach with some Tech-Metal groove guitars and a buried electronic vocal harmony layer. Another big, bold clean vocal chorus gives the song an epic feel before the uncleans bite in for a verse. But the cleans taking the bigger part on this cut gives Noakes the chance to get his lyrical point across while giving the gutterals that much more bite. As perhaps the title suggests “Deadweight” dials us back into the heavier side of the bands sound with a Tech-Metal intro to die for. This time around though, it’s the guitars that provide the melodic aspect, while the vocals shred. The breakdowns are brutal and the underpinning drum work is stunning. Mandolins and buried electronics open “Veridical” before giving way to some more of the bands conventional guitar work for a tidy, if short instrumental. It’s very much one that sounds like it could have been the introduction to the album or could have been developed into a full blown song. Not that it sounds unfinished or under developed in any way. “Entrapment” is one that takes a surprise left turn mid-album, after the Tech-Metal bludgeoning guitars and mix of clean and unclean vocals, with a spoken word rap verse that doesn’t fit in any way, shape or form. Fortunately it’s quickly swept aside. Why the song wasn’t called “Avalanche” despite the frequency of the word in the lyrics is a good question.
Starting with a Jazz styled melodic opening passage, “Hikari” again showcases the quality of Jake Noakes clean vocals as he lyrically talks about his journey of self discovery. The total absence of uncleans is simply a preparation for the brutal vocal opening of “Birth-Marked”. The pause break styling returns with succato guitars, brutal breakdowns and tech influenced tones bursting out from the chest of the song like an Alien while the vocals splatter the walls on blood. The big slow breakdown to close is a glorious moment. “Ukiyo” features Issues drummer and percussionist Josh Manuel and picks up on the Jazzy sounds with some frenetic off kilter fills against some melodic guitars. Leaping off the back of that “Escapist” then kicks in at pace with some Metalcore toned guitars that throws back to the 2003 Metalcore eta build back into Tech-Metal after the first verse. A strained as disturbing vocal from Noakes appears as he sounds like he’s completely lost the plot before turning through a tasteful clean and unclean passage over a brutal slow and atmospheric breakdown. More Metalcore guitars and blast beats then build back into Tech-Metal before the closing Japanese inspired Jazzy close that is briiantly brutalised by some chunky tech riffage.
One thing that has always been leveled at Oceans Ate Alaska is that they are a challenging listen. That is very much the case with “Hikari”. The band create a vibrant and technical metal sound that pushes the listener from one extreme to another throughout each and every song rather than across the album as a whole. That being said, each song has treads a fine line between the beauty and brutality of the bands sound and the effort put in to create the sound is rewarded with the listen. For some, those who perhaps haven’t heard Oceans Ate Alaska before, this may be an off putting thing. But for those who know the band, this is exactly what they would have expected and hoped for. How on Earth they managed to get signed to Fearless Records, we don’t know. [7.5/10]
“Benzaiten” (Ft. Alex Teyen of BlackTongue)
“Ukiyo” (Ft. Josh Manuel of Issues)
“Hikari” by Oceans Ate Alaska is out now via Fearless Records