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Sten means stone. Nomen est omen: this is a fucking boulder of an album. With lichen and shit growing on it. After a pretty lengthy four year waiting period since Den Förste, Sten is pretty much the perfect sequel to that record. It takes the same sound, expands it with the grandeur of the band's earliest works like The Oden Sessions, packing it out to over an hour in length (almost twice the length of Den Förste) while still maintaining the layered intricacy and compelling instrumentation of the predecessor.
Appropriately the band presents their latest opus with a stunning piece of artwork in keeping with the 2009 album. I love those swirling, marine-yet-earthy, malleable but timeless patterns - apt for Ocean Chief's music, since it is heavy as hell but very easy to drift away listening to while kicking back on a slow afternoon. However here some images of Vikings and trollish figures from the band's lyrics are included in the artwork, and yeah, I think you could probably have your prisoners of war row to these inexorable, erosive rhythms. Not to mention this makes for a far more authentic immersion into Viking lore and suitable atmospheres than that thing they've got on HBO.
Ocean Chief are a great argument against anyone claiming smoking weed damages productivity and accomplishment. So admittedly they took four years to finally put this out, but bear with me. Everything about the band in 2013 is actually tightened up, improved and squeaky fucken' clean. From the painfully precise drumming to the lovingly crafted guitar lines to the perfect production, it's all knocked up a notch. But that isn't to say anything has changed about the winning formula from the previous record. Straight in with a bang - the whole band comes straight in on 'Den Sanna Styrkan', and the massive Sabbath-on-ketamin riffs BEGIN. Prepare the longships you cunts. Sten contains four tracks of between 15 and 20 minutes that slowly burn through slow but utterly head-noddable riffs that as usual sound all their own, rather than derived from their beloved influences.
It isn't just the guitars that make this killer though. Yet another band that I am glad to hear singing all of their lyrics in Swedish too - the vocals just sound really awesome and badass on this recording. Pretty stoned and strained, but still throaty and commanding. The keyboards are an element that has really improved - in fact this is the only band I've heard that seems to use keyboards in the same way as guitars in a stoner doom setting - as in, when the band cuts away and only keyboards are playing in 'Den Sanna Styrkan' and 'Oden', it's still fuzzy and amplified as all fuckery. And the whole way the keyboards are not only made heavy, but are used to set the scene and vibe at the start of the excellent 'Slipsten', is just something only Ocean Chief can do like this.
Anyway, an album that can be described as "four ridiculously long and absurdly slow and dense doom metal songs in Swedish about Vikings" might seem taxing, but the number of moments that constantly refresh the songs and make me appreciate the riffs in a new way when they come back in, is high enough to make Sten extremely replayable. For example, the jazzy drum break and warbling guitar solos in the middle of that opening track are stoned brilliance, right up your street if you ever loved anything by Ufomammut or if you like the idea of Ozzy-era Sabs slowed down even further and viewed through some oceanic, somehow psychoactive kaleidoscope. Take also the brutal bass guitar rhythms in 'Slipsten' that rampage into the song's final six or seven minutes, or the pounding doom barrage of 'Stenhog's' climax with ambiences and sublime keyboard textures easing between the riffs. The murderous, chugging rhythms over which drone baneful leads on the finale 'Oden'. Monstrous, wonderful, scenic, just excellent.
I don't toke up any more, and haven't done really since 2009. The year I discovered Ocean Chief... maybe this band hits the spot just as well when I want to mong out. I think so. With these last two full-lengths, and especially this far longer one, the band have shown they can truly impress at album-length the way they have done on split releases with Runemagick, Kongh and The Funeral Orchestra. Despite not being quite as intensely good as the previous record, perhaps only due to my extreme enjoyment of that album first as there are no particular flaws to speak of, this is a no-brainer for those who enjoyed Den Förste. The band say to expect a "different album" next time around, with their fifth full-length unexpectedly just a year on the heels of this (scheduled for summer 2014), so if this is their epitome and final, sacral immortalisation of this sound, ye must treasure it even more, worshipers of the ocean chief. I said treasure it!
Ocean Chief is a relatively unknown Swedish sludge metal act, and this release was my first exposure to the band. I really did not know what to expect when the CD arrived, but I was met with extremely heavy and entrancing sludge that left me in a stupor. The intense long compositions and epic, powerful riffs make the music delivered in these four tracks a treat to hear, and these guys provide an unusual spike in the standard thick stew of sludge and stoner metal.
I love the composition style brought forth on this album, with the riff-centered guitars leading the charge, and providing the meat of each track. While listening to this album, I often found myself dozing off or spacing out, not due to boredom, but due to the hypnotic and repetitive nature of the guitar riffs, which would bore me in other albums, but works very well here. Distortion is present, but the guitars are cleaner than most sludge work, actually creating an atmosphere and legibility between each riff, rather than a giant wall of distortion, and that makes this album a real treat to hear. The atmosphere on this album is as powerful as the ocean, and those are the images that come to mind when listening to Sten (this is perhaps due to the absolutely gorgeous artwork). The bass buffers the guitars with a deep warm tone, and works well in conjunction with the guitar. The drums sound very good on this record, with a powerful kick sound and a solid performance overall. The drums drag the sludgy guitars along well, and keep the record going. With that said, the songs begin to wear thin after a while. I feel like Ocean Chief doesn't quite have the chops to pull off songs of these lengths. The second track definitely overstayed its welcome, and I began to check the time every so often as the 19-minute beast droned on. I also feel that the repetition drags the album down. This is not the case, however, on the final track, Oden. Odd synthesizer and keyboard effects carry this epic track home, and the album ends on a triumphant, entrancing note. The hypnotizing feel of this awesome song makes it a great finisher, and easily the best song on the album.
The girth of these tracks brings down the record, which could have been trimmed down from it's 70-minute running time. But the bizarre, otherworldly feel of this album is a nice change from the massive distorted hunks of music that are modern sludge and doom records, which can wear thin after a while. I would recommend this album to any fans of doom, sludge or stoner who are looking for something that breaks tradition.