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Despite the widespread claim that “2016 was the worst year ever” and the fact that it’s pure mathematics that many old people did the very thing that old people do and died last year and that a lot of them sadly happened to be high-profile pop-culture icons and musicians, 2016 was actually pretty fucking good! To be fair, it was also pretty toss. From Corey Feldman and I Prevail putting out albums, the aforementioned plethora of high-profile deaths, the Assassin’s Creed movie being released, to the shit show that was Brexit and the even bigger shit show that was the Trump’s election (well, if you politically lean left, that is), to Australia’s very own political woes; 2016 had some really weak moments during its 12-month scheduled programming. But that’s all water under the bridge now because 2017 is here and everything is going to be -huh? Ocean Sleeper’s debut EP, ‘Six Feet Down’, comes out on Friday? Yeah look, 2017, you’ve already cocked it up and it hasn’t even been a full month yet!
Gippsland’s Ocean Sleeper (no, I don’t know what an “Ocean Sleeper” is) aren’t so much a poor man’s metalcore outfit as they are a homeless man’s metalcore outfit; a group that just does the genre’s absolute minimum to get by. So much so that I actually considered not bothering with this review and on not giving this band some form of free press but the chip on my shoulder wouldn’t shut up so here we all are.
Six Feet Down’ begins with the 90-second intro song of ‘Sleepless‘, which is meant to reel you in, and hype you up for what the rest of the EP’s five songs have to offer. Yet the bland synthesised strings and the almost uninterested vocal deliveries didn’t do that approach any justice, and with the sole exception of the track’s solid lead guitar melody, this was an utter waste of 90 seconds. As for the EP’s second song, ‘Breaking Free‘, it has the obligatory clean vocals leading the song’s chorus, mid-range screams that have fuck all range, mindless low-tuned guitar chugs with the occasional tapped parts, entry level breakdowns that aren’t that impactful or heavy, and solid yet unimaginative drumming with the same old production and mix that has given life to countless other bands; those both good and bad. From here on in, things don’t improve, as it’s just a ‘Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V’ mentality of songwriting (yes, I’m a Mac user) and there’s nothing of any real interest to be found between ‘Breaking Free‘ and the EP’s finale with the titular track as it’s all so very, very trite. Although, I will say that the more melodic, cleaner and ironically titled ‘Another Mistake‘ would indeed be the best of the worst of the EP’s track listing… which ain’t saying much. Whether you’re looking at these song’s arrangements, how heavy and engaging they are, their melodies, their instrumentation, the overall vision behind this EP; it’s all just so fucking mediocre and at it’s very best, this release is only somewhat – somewhat – passable.
Perhaps the worst offender here is the EP’s title track, although it’s a six-way tie of awfulness I’d argue. The song’s intro isn’t that far off from being ‘Nihilist‘ by Architects, whereas the chorus has basically been ripped from every single fucking Amity Affliction song in existence. Sure, genres such as metalcore can be rather derivative and filled with imitators of the bigger, more successful bands, yet ‘Six Feet Down‘, both the song and the EP as a larger whole, feel like such a retread of an already weary formula.
Oh god, and then there’s the painfully lame lyrics that litter this thing. While we were just on the eponymous track, let’s look at the song’s first batch of lyrics – “Where do I begin/I just feel so hollow/everything is just falling apart around me/I hold these secrets to my teeth/No one will know a thing”. Or how about these “winner” lyrics from ‘Breaking Free‘; “We don’t have to fear the darkness/We don’t have to feel alone/Breathe the fire inside/Ignoring the pain/We’ll make this world ours“.
I’m sure that those drab, cliché lyrics do mean something to the band, yet here is the thing about writing songs about depression, mental illness, suicide, and loss; it’s no longer the “in” thing to do nor are they that unique, as callous as that sounds. Nowadays, with so many bands tackling the same issues, via the same routes and with the same lyrical clichés no less, your lyrics need to be far more detailed and far more vivid, ensuring that you construct engaging narratives that really resonate with the listeners who have been through similar experiences in some way. There is a very good reason why bands like La Dispute, The Wonder Years, and Touché Amore (and hell, even Twenty One Pilots) garner such passionate fandom and that is because they go balls deep with their lyrics; whether they weave deeply personal stories about their own experiences or tell the stories of other individuals that they know or at least, know of. Either way, the lyrics of those aforementioned bands, among a handful of others, all feels fleshed out, is often highly detailed, and it can all feel so real, even when sometimes they may not be one hundred percent true. However, as a closer metalcore comparison, look to The Amity Affliction’s earlier and frankly better work on ‘Youngbloods‘, or shit, even ‘Chasing Ghosts‘. Or to The Ghost Inside’s ‘White Light‘, where Jonathan Vigil lays so much of himself and his emotions on the table about the death of his younger brother, Ryan Vigil, which is still the greatest and most emotionally evocative song that band has ever written. As for Ocean Sleeper, much like their music, they’ve simply opted for entry level heavy music lyricism, that all feels immensely phoned in and listening to them leaves one utterly cold.
All right, fuck it, let’s just move on. As for the actual vocals, screamer Karl Spiessl only has the one kind of mid-range scream (which is often double-tracked to try and hide the fact it doesn’t hold up by itself). There are no high-register screams and barely anything in the way of low growls. Hell, there’s not even that spoken-word-to-scream transition that For The Fallen Dreams’ Chad Ruhlig and In Hearts Wake’s Jake Taylor used to employ! As such, this vocal style makes ‘Six Feet Down‘ even more monotonous. The very same can be said for the guitar tone, chord progressions, vocal delivery of guitarist and clean singer, Ionei Heckenberg, who at times sounds scarily like Ahren Stringer (something this style of music really doesn’t need more of right now). As for the drums and bass, well… at least they’re there.
If it’s not obvious by now, let me make it clear as possible; the music that these four guys produce is just the very definition of cookie cutter and derivative. Sure, everything here is musically in key and is rhythmically in time, and the band are…competent musicians for the most part (that physically hurt to type) with a sonically cohesive EP. Yet this was a truly accursed release, with near zero originality and was an absolute chore to listen to. I can only thank some benevolent deity that this release was only six tracks long and not more. Basically, ‘Six Feet Down‘ and Ocean Sleeper, in general, represents everything that is fucking wrong with contemporary metalcore scene right now.
I am not done yet, as I like to go all in with my criticism. While it wasn’t included on this EP, Ocean Sleeper released a cover of Danny Brown’s ‘Smokin and Drinkin’ late last year. Honestly, I loathe most of Danny Brown’s music (and that whole photographer business didn’t help my feelings towards him either) but sweet baby Allah, his original ‘Smokin and Drinkin’ track was a godsend compared to Ocean Sleeper’s generic metalcore take on this 2013 song. Just like the band’s original music (if you could even call it original), this stock standard metalcore tune feels like a rushed, uninspired Pop Goes Punk track. Considering how low that bar has been set because of trash like Falling In Reverse’s ‘Gangsta Paradise‘ cover, that is really saying something.
But hey, at least they didn’t have to write any actual lyrics this time! I also feel sorry that Ocean Grove’s Luke Holmes features on the cover (he’s not in the video, though), but Holmes is easily the best part about the whole damn thing. And I suppose that he gets the last laugh for being in the far better band that also uses ‘Ocean’ in their band’s moniker.
You know, the saddest part about all of this is that even with their incredibly watered down metalcore sound, Ocean Sleeper will probably go onto to see some decent success because of it. Sure, ‘Six Feet Down’ is the band’s first major release so who knows, maybe they will drastically up their musical game and surprise us all on the next one or on their debut full-length. But…in saying that, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m simply giving the band far too much credit in that regard. Straight up, ‘Six Feet Down’ is a contender for one of the worst releases of 2017 and if it somehow gets beaten out by even more forsaken musical abominations, then it would still be a woefully mediocre EP at it’s very best. This is the 2017 equivalent of I Prevail’s ‘Lifelines’. And that’s not a good thing.
2. Breaking Free
3. Hold On Stay With Me
4. Sewn Shut
5. Another Mistake
6. Six Feet Down
‘Six Feet Down’ is out January 13th. Don’t buy it.