The outsiders

Ocean join the Pantheon
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  February 25, 2009


As much as it's even possible, the Bruce Hutchinson-illustrated cover of Ocean's second album, Pantheon of the Lesser (Important), conveys almost every abstract impression you glean from actually listening to the album. Atop a stark snow-white backdrop is the reflective, silver foil-printed image of an angel, hooded like the Grim Reaper, with two socket-eyed babies suckling her breasts. A shallow pool of waves churns under the angel; after a minute, you realize she's born from the water. Above her, rays of sunshine pierce through the metallic sheen and gulls fly overhead. The cover suggests something disturbing and possibly even sublime — primal, elemental ingredients that swell to become something equally beautiful, foreboding, and terrifying. It's an alchemy Pantheon of the Lesser masters.

The album — a two-track, hour-long, deconstructionist monster — is the linchpin of what's become an exciting moment for the Portland doom metal four-piece, after Pantheon's late-2008 release. Last week, the band headlined the first concert in Pitchfork's new "Show No Mercy" metal showcase in Brooklyn, shortly after writer Grayson Currin tagged Pantheon with a big 8.4 rating and almost every variation of the adjectives "monolithic" and "colossal" you can think of. This comes after a feature in the extreme music Decibel magazine and prominent raves in Outburn and Terrorizer. While they keep a relatively low profile in Portland, Ocean are preparing for two March dates in town: the first an all-ages show with Eld and Julius on March 7, followed by a March 26 date at Geno's.

I e-mailed Brandon Stosuy, a senior writer at the blog Stereogum and curator of the "Show No Mercy" concert series, expressing some surprise that the band, who seem woefully undervalued at home, would make such a sudden splash in the national metal scene. He said Ocean's status in Portland is fairly similar to what it is in the genre writ large:

"They're on Important Records [also home to Conifer], which isn't the most metal of labels, which already gives them a bit of an outsider status. Add to that the fact that they're in Portland, and they really do feel like these dudes who exist [unto] themselves, outside of a specific scene ... They have a pretty broad appeal, despite making what folks might see as 'extreme' or 'difficult' music. I think this is a testament to how good they are at what they do."

By dint of its epic structure, it's obligatory to refer to the challenge Ocean pose to an MP3-hungry audience, but there's nothing shrill or hard-to-swallow about Pantheon of the Lesser, despite the fact that it sounds like reliving the most tortured moments of your past in excruciating slow-motion. "The Beacon" begins with two minutes of Candy and JL's prolonged, feedback-heavy riffs that beg to be reveled in. Eric Brackett's drums respond in kind, building an intense anticipation — can he play this slow for this long? — the band only deliver in fits and starts.

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