Oceans of Night – Midnight Rising

Oceans of Night - Midnight Rising

Midnight Rising is the best record from Oceans of Night to date. I say this as someone who has followed the band’s saga from their debut The Shadowheart Mirror and even prior to that, with multi- instrumentalist Scott Mosher’s quadrilogy of solo albums. In a broad sense, Oceans of Night is a continuation of Mosher’s solo ambitions, drawing sounds from ambient, electronic and prog traditions under a banner of bombastic melodic metal. Collaborating with vocalist (and fellow Scott) Oliva, the pair make a promising duo, with more than enough talent between the two to make Oceans of Night a potential force to be reckoned with. In spite of that promise, there were problems on both of their past records that held me back from full appreciation; The Shadowheart Mirrorsported solid songs and melodic writing but suffered from a muddy production. It’s follow-up, Domain on the other hand improved upon the execution, but lacked the tactful composition to make it feel like an improvement. With Midnight Rising, I’m all-too happy to hear writing and execution impressing me evenly. Oceans of Night‘s third record isn’t without its share of weaker aspects, but whatever faults there are on the album are vastly outweighed by the ambitious strides they have made here.

In describing Oceans of Night, I’m torn between likening them to traditional progressive metal, or placing them within the melodic branch of modern prog. Oliva’s theatrical delivery and many of Mosher’s riffs convey a rich appreciate for ’80s progressive metal (primarily Queensryche and John Arch-era Fates Warning), but the weight they’ve placed on retro-futuristic space atmosphere is reminiscent of Arjen Lucassen’s Star One project, or Portugal’s Factory of Dreams. For what it’s worth, many of the best bands in [progressive rock today see fit to fuse influences old and new together, and this natural mix of styles has resulted in a fairly distinctive sound for Oceans of Night, especially for a band with such a focus on melody.

While The Shadowheart Mirror was defined by its songwriting and Domain for its atmosphere, Midnight Rising is so defined by its proper fusion of the two. Nostalgic synthesizers and space-age timbres have a very strong presence on the album (at times even outshining the guitars), but (unlike Domain) it hasn’t softened their sense of composition. Midnight Rising is alight with some of the best, most style-defining tracks Oceans of Night have yet done. “Gone Forever” is the best song Oceans of Night have ever produced, with melodies and structure so tightly refined it’s easy to forget the track is over ten minutes long. At the same time, Scott Mosher has spread the project’s wings a little further, branching out with a couple of surprises along the way. “A World Born of Fire” is a change of pace for the band nearly to the point of seeming out of place; it takes a much more metal-centric approach, ditching the vocals for an instrumental that you might hear from Fates Warning or Dream Theater. The album closer “Reach Me” (made special with guest vocals from Stephanie Warren) recalls something Devin Townsend might have done with Anneke van Giersbergen, circa Addicted.

For an album with such an emphasis on melody, Midnight Rising isn’t particularly sharp with its hooks. This could be said even moreso for the work Oceans of Night have done in the past. Oliva’s vocals are rich and striking (drawing a close parallel with Queensryche‘s Geoff Tate, before he lost his edge), but his voice never seems integrated fully with Mosher’s instrumentation. I’d guess that Oliva’s vocal lines were penned atop the instruments after the fact. Oliva’s contributions on Midnight Rising are certainly inspired, but the vocals still aren’t as fully infused into Oceans of Night‘s songwriting as I’d like to hear. With that having been said, the duo sculpt an excellent chorus on “Gone Forever”, and “Midnight Rising” is one of the best-written tunes they’ve done so far.

Oceans of Night‘s songwriting still doesn’t jump out at me as consistently as I’d like it to, but Midnight Rising more than compensates for it with many stand-out passages and ideas. Oceans of Night‘s space-age atmosphere gives Mosher plenty opportunity to explore ambient approaches alongside the metal. The introduction to “Midnight Rising” is long and ominous, bringing to mind what the Blade Runner soundtrack might have sounded in the hands of rock musicians. “Critical Mass / The Breathless Sleep” conjures up some incredible atmosphere with its simple guitar lead and subtle synthesizers. While Scott Mosher’s flagship instrument is clearly the guitar, it’s the synthesizers and electronic incorporations that arguably impress me the most on Midnight Rising. The drum duties have been attributed here to the dubiously-named ‘Alan Smithee’ (search up some of the man’s other accomplishments and you’ll understand my doubts); even though the drums are almost certainly programmed, they’re well-composed and don’t cheapen the band’s sound at all, though I’m sure Oceans of Night would benefit from the dimension added by a live drummer.

Ultimately, I think Midnight Rising has been a long time coming. It’s always been obvious that Oceans of Night had the talent and stylistic novelty to create a great album, but there always seemed to be kinks in the formula that needed work. There’s still plenty of room left for Oceans of Night to refine their craft, but with Midnight Rising, I think they are finally hitting their stride.

Tracklist:

1. The Haunted Mind (4:49)
2. Midnight Rising (6:21)
3. Critical Mass / The Breathless Sleep (5:00)
4. The Burning Sky (9:00)
5. Crashing Down (3:50)
6. Gone Forever (10:03)
7. Is This Who We Are? (3:44)
8. A World Born of Fire (5:26)
9. Where You Are (7:53)
10. Reach Me (3:21)

Line-up:

* Scott Mosher – guitars, bass, keyboards
* Scott Oliva – vocals
* Alan Smithee – drums, percussion

With:

* Vivien Lalu – keyboard solos
* Chris Rifkin – guitar solo on ‘The Burning Sky’
* Stephanie Warren – vocals on ‘Reach Me’

Links:

http://www.oceansofnight.com

https://www.facebook.com/OceansOfNight

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