Very few releases have made a mark on the melodic hardcore scene over the past few years in the way that 2012’s Dear G-d did, putting Being As An Ocean on everyone’s radar regardless of whether they wanted them there or not. After a few line-up changes How We Both Wondrously Perish marks the bands return, and it’s a triumphant yet troubled work of art.
How We Both Wondrously Perish differs from Being As An Ocean’s first release, most noticeably with the addition of vocalist / guitarist Michael McGough (formerly of The Elijah) whose soaring cleans bring something new to the bands dynamic, and he fits in seamlessly, providing soaring vocals throughout, as is the case on lead single Death’s Great Black Wing Scrapes The Air which manages to sound as large as its title suggests, bursting into life with crashing instrumentation and roaring vocals from primary vocalist Joel Quartuccio. It displays a darker, more aggressive tone before relenting to McGough and lashes of melody before surging back twice as heavy before a pummeling final minute as Quartuccio delivers lyrics on faith and humanity, ending with a trademark spoken word part. These spoken word parts are frequent, and although they don’t seem to be conveyed with as much conviction as they were on Dear G-d they still work well, most noticeably on fifth track The Poets Cry For More, which pairs Quartuccio’s poetry with plodding drums, and the moment at which the track unravels is almost life-affirming as he says ‘my mistakes haven’t made me’ before towering cleans from McGough. However, the track could potentially sound much bigger, and on occasion How We Both Wondrously Perish teeters on the edge of greatness and doesn’t quite seem capable of taking the final few steps. McGough isn’t utilised as well / as much as he could be, and choruses which sounded monolithic on Dear G-d seem diminished here, which happens on the aforementioned track. Also, Tyler Ross’ intricate guitar melodies don’t pierce in the same way that they have in the past, and even when songs drop off to mellow delicate sections they don’t shine as much, which is a slight shame.
Despite some songs falling short of the mark the majority of those featured on How We Both Wondrously Perish are brilliant, and see the band up their game significantly. Even The Dead Have Their Tasks carries an almost indie feel reminiscent of The Editors as Quartuccio experiments with some cleaner, brooding vocals which sit surprisingly well, before the track switches back to the bands more balanced style of spoken word with crooning vocals underneath as Quartuccio asks ‘Am I really living a dream if the only time I spend with you is in my sleep?’ It’s one of the best selections on the record, and the less faith-orientated lyrics are cathartically expressed, whilst the final forty seconds are crushing in a number of ways, providing one of the standout moments. Third track L’exquisite Douleur (which translates to ‘the exquisite pain’) sounds a little odd initially as a result of an almost pop-punk approach introduction which relents to verses featuring some painfully poetic lyrics and climbing instrumentation. The song undergoes numerous switches in pace, dropping off to gang vocals of and then bouncing back, only to relax again to Chelsea Wolfe-styled laments of ‘Darling, your silence says everything’ and from here comes the records most striking moment as McGough sings over very limited instrumentation, evoking goosebumps seconds before an awesome, layered climax. It sees Being As An Ocean dabble with some varied song structures, and they’ve rarely sounded better. Mothers is another highlight, journeying into increasingly personal territory as sombre vocals tell a tale of an unwavering love during an eventual lost battle with cancer, and it hits hard. It’s pensive and sentimental nature make for a moving song as the lines ‘We watched your body fade but until the end your spirit shone bright/ Something that cancer could never take away / We lay hands and prayed / Oh god how steadfast you stayed’ unfurl before a throwback of sorts to Dear G-d as Quartuccio says ‘There is a point to all of this, to learn to love as you’, which gives way to a gorgeous trumpet fanfare. It’s Being As An Ocean at their best – when they play from the heart and mean every note – and regardless of its melancholy nature Mothers is a song blossoming with life from the offset. The record ends with haunting finale Natures which builds and adds layers as it progresses, with distorted vocals complemented by grinding samples and synths, reaching a strangely euphoric peak as washed out drums pound as it all comes together at a stunning summit, fading to a single lonely piano that sees the record out.
How We Both Wondrously Perish undoubtedly sees Being As An Ocean try a few new things in that it’s more experimental and adventurous than the bands past release. This is also where its biggest flaw comes into play, because at times I got the sense that perhaps Being As An Ocean try too hard. How We Both Wondrously Perish is a forty minute record, but discounting the sections of instrumentation and filler it reaches just over thirty, and at times its slightly frustrating, seemingly running down the clock. The title track offers little more than a minute or so of gentle, breezy ambience which is forgivable, but the second half of the record displays this issue much more prominently. We Drag The Dead On Leashes features a somewhat unnecessary final two minutes of dead air whilst Grace, Teach Us What We Lack features a final minute of little more than acoustic guitars before Mothers fades out with two minutes of repetitive instrumentation which is very good but does drag slightly. How We Both Wondrously Perish is a dense and at times majestic record, and it’s easy to see these ‘interludes’ as times for reflection and an opportunity to take it all in; but I personally think they hampered the experience. Granted Dear G-d featured the eleven minute instrumental It’s Really Not As Complicated… but this was much heavier and concentrated, whereas the breaks here are separated and subtle, affecting the pace of the record despite their good intentions.
Criticisms aside, when How We Both Wondrously Perish is in full bloom it’s untouchable – a passionate, energetic and highly compelling record that ushers a listener in and takes them on a journey. Does it beat Dear G-d? That’s a tough question, but I’m glad you asked dear read-r. In some ways it’s superior, and in others it pales in comparison. It isn’t as emotionally raw, neither is it as instantly memorable, but How We Both Wondrously Perish is still an accomplished, albeit flawed record which takes the musical foundation the band laid on their debut and builds on it, bringing in skyscraping clean vocals and a much more obvious diversity and willingness to branch out. It may leave some fans looking back, but generally speaking Being As An Ocean’s second full-length is a step forward that sees them push onwards instead of simply resting on their laurels – although there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Rating – 6.5/10
Listen to: L’exquisite Douleur / Even The Dead Have Their Tasks / Mothers