Fundamentalist Christianity, and critique there of, has always been a point of great conjecture. Some believe the religion reveals a path to the true self. Others are drawn to ridicule. For The Ocean guitarist and songwriting mastermind Robin Straps, a fascination towards the perverse saw him draw creatively from this topic. “It is something I have been exposed to for a long time now,” Straps says. “My first contact with militant Christians was when I was 16 and living in the US with a host family of die-hard creationists. My host-sister tried to convince me that the dinosaurs never existed and it was all a big myth created by scientists possessed by the devil. It seemed really abstract to me and got me really thinking about the whole subject a lot.”
Straps’ interest founded a personal obsession. The past 12 years has seen him work with over 40 like-minded individuals under The Ocean collective banner in Germany. Seeking to defy genre specifics, full-lengths weave from the heavy to more progressive sides of doom, ambient, hardcore and rock. As the dust began to settle on a revolving door of members, with vocalist Loic Rossetti the latest addition in 2009, Straps reverted his thoughts to tackling his growing theories on Christianity. “It’s just a fascinating thing that has really forged our culture here,” he says. “It has become a part of the things we do and say. It’s in the values we uphold today, even though most people in Western Europe are not really that openly religious anymore. I barely have any friends that go to church. It seems like the church in Europe has taken on the role of a social welfare institution, rather than an actual place where people go to pray or believe. But it’s very different in the US. I just wanted to explore this further.”
The result of this process was the dual releases of Heliocentric and Anthropocentric two years ago. A step towards musical fulfilment, according to Straps, fans were not as keen to delve into these dense recordings. “Some people had some difficulty in getting into them because they were quite different from our previous releases,” he says. “They employed a lot more clean singing and some very quiet songs, which were really not part of our musical cosmos before. There was so much talk that we weren’t ‘metal’ anymore, that the albums were bullshit and our new singer was ‘crying like a pussy’. The fact is, we never said we were a metal band. We’ve always had influences from other territories. Even our first album, Fluxion (2004) was entirely instrumental with classical elements. I think those people just didn’t understand what the band was really all about in the first place. If they just wanted to listen to death metal, they can do that.”
But Straps assures alienation was not their purpose. “We didn’t want to deter our fans,” he says. “We still want to do what we feel like musically. If that means an acoustic, piano-based album – than that’s what we’ll do. I just want to keep everything open and be able to do anything musically that we feel like doing. I guess that’s why we chose our band name in the first place. The Ocean can stand for the cheesy, peaceful sea or the man-eating storm. We want to cover all of those territories.”
2012 signalled the quintet’s final chapter in their self-dubbed ‘Christianity chronicles’. The Great Inquisitor EP, released last month, took three tracks of the same name from their fifth opus and carried through the theme with a new addition. Straps points to this song, The Grand Inquisitor IV: Exclusion From Redemption, as completing the conceptual arc. “We had one new track left over from the last album,” he says. “We just simply thought it didn’t fit the album musically. Not because it was so different, but we didn’t know where to put it. The album seemed more clean and coherent without that track. Lyrically, it continues the micro-chapter in the album – inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brother’s Karamazov. This follows the story of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the parable of the Catholic inquisition. This song specifically targets the speech made by the grand inquisitor himself about Christ’s naive notion of humanity and the uncompassionate ideal of freedom.
“Of course, it was a huge undertaking to try to summarise a 50 to 60 page speech into one song. If you tried to get everything, that exercise would just be doomed for failure. We faced the same problem on our last two albums; there’s just so many things that can be said. You couldn’t tackle to constraints on one, or even two albums. But I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, it reflects some core messages.”
Set to spend the rest of the year in writing mode, their next release will offer a breath of fresh air for those who strayed from The Ocean’s anti-religious fervour. “We want to discover something new now,” Straps says. “It’s going to be much less of a nerdy, intellectual album. Although, it will be one continuous piece of music with pointer track marks. So it will be much more personal, in a way. We hope we can offer our fans something different again.”
BY JESSICA WILLOUGHBY
THE OCEAN play The Hi-Fi on Saturday May 26 with Sydonia and LO! The Grand Inquisitor EP is out now through Pelagic Records.