Friday, April 20, 2012

French Metal Friday: Ocean

Today's French Metal Friday feature actually dates back to 11/11/11. That was the date when I first started working on this Ocean article. At the time I couldn't even find a picture on the band online let alone any solid leads to a back story on the group. It wasn't for lack of trying that I finally decided to just walk away from the article. No, there was just very little information to be found on Ocean. Even now (after all the months that have passed) I'm still left trying to find my way around in the dark. In this modern era Ocean is just one of those acts that you'll find very little information about online and what information you do come across is usually in French! Given that I own their marvelous import 4 CD Set, "Story, Live & More", you'd think I'd know more about this interesting French outfit. Especially as it came with a nice booklet and all. But, as the booklet is also French I am left wondering just what made this band evolve the way they did? I do know a few tidbits from searching the web and using translation software. The band was founded in 1974 by guitarist/keyboardist George Bodossian. George came up with the idea for the name of the band while listening to the Yes album "Tales from Topographic Oceans". Apparently he liked the fact that Ocean meant the same thing in English as it did French. The group's first album, "God's Clown", was released in 1976 and is actually sung entirely in English which was a novelty at the time for French rock groups. While most people do seem to recall that the band had a hard rock/heavy metal sound going for them in the eighties (when they toured with a Bon Scott lead AC/DC and Iron Maiden) the group's first album from 1976 is anything but metal. Well, that isn't entirely true as it does borrow slightly from Led Zeppelin (mostly in the fact that some people think vocalist Robert Belmonte bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain Robert Plant) and early Rush. So, if you consider the ever so slight influences those two bands had on the group's members (as well as Deep Purple and Queen) you could argue the point that it is early proto-metal. With that said it has become more of a cult favorite among progressive rock fans thanks to it's very distinct love of all things King Crimson. Other supposed early influences included Cream, Frank Zappa, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix. I'd also say that Yes played a role in the group's early sound as well as psychedelic rock. I've listened to "God's Clown" several times through and even if I am not a huge fan of progressive rock it is an interesting affair and an album that needs a bigger audience. So, how do you go from a band that was rolling with King Crimson and other progressive influences to hard rock/heavy metal? That I really don't know. Further information on the band's move from progressive rock to heavy metal has been hard to find. No doubt the group was influenced by the changing musical landscape. With bands like Trust on the national scene it seems likely that the evolution to all things hard rock was an easy enough choice. The choice to go from singing in English to singing in French though was another story altogether. From what I have been able to gather it was the band's record company that pushed them to sing in their native language as that was the trend back then. Now, of the four albums in their catalog it is really the band's self-titled second album that would be of most interest to metal fans. It features 12 tracks of hard rock/heavy metal that while sung entirely in French is simply too good to be ignored. Fans of Trust, Sortilege, Warning, H-Bomb and Satan Jokers would do well to track down a copy of the album as it features some of the best French metal I've had the pleasure of hearing. If your not familiar with those names then let's just say that there was a good reason why Ocean was able to tour with both AC/DC and Iron Maiden. Because they bridged the gap between those two greats Ocean could be seen as a hard rock/NWOBHM hybrid. The album has been re-issued from all accounts with bonus material tacked on. It is still an import item though so it might be hard to find for a reasonable price. As stated the band released four albums altogether before apparently splitting. The other albums, "Ocean" (yes, it is confusing having two albums named the same thing) and "A'Live + B" (half studio, half live) are interesting enough items, but it is the band's progressive rock debut album and later day self-titled heavy metal album that I am continually drawn back to. The fact that they pull off both genres with such ease says a lot for the group's talent as a whole. If anyone can shed more light on this unique act please get in touch with me.

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