Review by John Eje Thelin: Profuna Ocean – In Vacuum (2016)

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A review made by guest writer/reviewer John Eje Thelin. 

Steven Wilson casts a long shadow, at least in the world of what passes for prog rock today. At this point, many bands are not only clearly inspired by Wilson and his seminal band Porcupine Tree, but also by those who followed in his foot steps.
Which is how we get something like this, essentially a mix of late-period Porcupine Tree and Polish band Riverside (which is akin to a reggae band being a mix of Bob Marley and UB 40).

It’s pleasant enough, in a sense, but apart from the occasional interesting note from guitarist Raoul Potters, there’s very little about Profuna Ocean that makes you sit up and pay attention.

Where Wilson married a sweet pop sensibility to metal riffage with great success on albums like Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia, Profuna Ocean seem content to vacillate between fairly regular rock ideas and some prog metal elements, as if an actual sudden change in tone and substance would either be too much effort, or a little frightening – and that’s kind of par for the course.

Not that every band has to be ground breaking or attempt to do something new, but the heart of prog is pretention (or at least it used to be), and an attempt at creating art without pretention often ends up floundering in some limbo of faux ambition. Like hipsters, where everyone is different from the norm, but almost all of them in the same way.

Because when you never dare to fail, never dare to go out on a limb and balance precariously over the precipice, you will never reach the lofty heights of genius. And you know what? That’s okay. There’s room for the safe-players and workmen, and I’m certain there are plenty of people who will enjoy this album, as long as they don’t expect anything earth shattering. Two out of five.

** John Eje Thelin

  1. Thousand Yard Stare (7:19)
  2. Awakening (4:54)
  3. Hanging In The Balance (13:30)
  4. Losing Ground (8:00)
  5. Ghost (5:09)
  6. Beautiful Sunrise (10:37)
  7. In Vacuum (1:11)
  8. Clean State (11:43)

http://www.profuna-ocean.com/

http://www.freia-music.com/

You can read my review about In Vacuum here:

https://grendelhq.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/profuna-ocean-in-vacuum-2016/

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9 thoughts on “Review by John Eje Thelin: Profuna Ocean – In Vacuum (2016)

  1. Gotta disagree with John’s review of the album because he obviously just skimmed through the songs just like so many big magazine reviews are like and decided to just pick out what he deemed the “obvious” connections and didn’t bother to listen or look in to the history of where this band is coming from and what they are all about. Sure they have some recognizable moments of Porcupine Tree but not everything they do is based off that. AND he obviously doesn’t think that Steven Wilson has anything Prog about him. Perhaps John you should re-listen to his albums and any other Prog albums you claim to have listened to. Not everything in the world of Prog is 20min long and has an orchestra and cover art by Roger Dean. Reviews like his are very biased and damaging to bands. What’s the last record you recorded John? What instrument do you know more than three chords to John? Perhaps you should listen to the entire record next time and discuss the merits of the album rather than your damning commentaries on what you feel “has been” and “should have happened”.

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  2. Let me adress your points, such as they are, in order.

    The history and where the band is coming from is mostly irrelevant; what matters is the music.

    And if i gave the impression that I don’t think Wilson has “anything prog about him”, I apologize for that, but it’s rather clear that together with the Morse/Stolt axis and Dream Theater, he has pretty much set the agenda for what is called prog these days. However, more so than the latter two parts of that equation, he does have an inkling of what prog at least used to be. I personally think he’s gone from boring to brilliant and back again, but that’s another opinion for another time.

    And, no, prog absolutely doesn’t have to mean long “epics” (in fact many modern “prog epics” are about as much prog as Coldplay), but it should mean at least a minor nod to genuine eclecticism. I mean, Gentle Giant, probably one of the most definitively PROG bands ever, never wrote particularly long songs (they admittedly did have a Roger Dean album cover once, though). And there are actually such bands out there even today, Moe Tar comes to mind (no long songs there either).

    The entire concept of a non-eclectic branch of prog is…well, let’s just say interesting.

    And all reviews are, by their very nature, biased. Please.

    I’ve been in bands for most of my adult life, and I have been a prog listener for a good thirty plus years (and I have written in some capacity for about as long). Not that the first part matters one whit, since “Then do it better yourself” is a playground argument. Good reviews are about expressing a view point in a clear – and, if possible, entertaining – manner, hopefully based on knowledge of what you’re writing about.

    But that knowledge doesn’t have to be about actual music theory (although, admittedly, I do know some, and can tap out a pretty decent 7/8 even if you wake me in the middle of the night – I suck at chord analysis, though). It’s about knowing history, context and content.

    But the second part, the one about experience and knowledge, that does matter; I’ve been there for the shift from prog being a good catchall for many individually different but all iconoclastic artists to it now mostly describing slightly more technical rock/metal. It’s not a development I am particularly happy about, because it muddies the terminological waters unnecessarily.

    Recently, I even saw one young prog head call Yes and Genesis “proto-prog”. Yikes. Well, at least he acknowledged that they are notably different from what falls under the prog banner these days. So there’s that.

    Lastly, I did actually discuss the album’s merits, inasmuch as I could find them. There were many things I deliberately refrained from mentioning (like the often badly proofed English, for instance), because they weren’t really relevant to the greater point I was making. In my opinion, it makes for far more interesting reading to have a through line to a review, (and trimming the fat somewhat), rather than just listing what happens in every song in the order it happens.

    If you don’t agree with my review, that’s absolutely fine, but attacking my knowledge, and attributing opinions to me that I have not expressed is quite unnecessary.

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    • I would like to extend an apology to you John for my rather crass choice of words regarding your review and could have approached it another way. Being someone who also writes reviews I too have been the object of people’s agreement and disagreement to what I have to say, so my apologies to my rather brash rant at your review.

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  3. eric

    I think it’s not a great review. First of all i think it’s not fair to give Profuna Ocean a Porcupine Tree / Steven Wilson label.
    Steven wilson works with some of the best musicians in the world and to produce those albums cost around 1 million dollar with the advertising. Profuna Ocean has made it for 4 hamburgers and 10 bottles of coca cola. Beside of that i think a reviewer can say: The music sounds a bit like Genesis or reminds me of Riverside but don’t compare them. That is not the intension of Profuna Ocean, they just made an album to be proud of and where many people will enjoy it. I think that is where it’s all about. At last, if i read a review i want to know how the album sounds, if the singer has a good voice, has it great solo’s. What instruments are played etc.. In this review there is NONE of that. In fact , i don’t read anything about the album, just about that Steven Wilson is great and Profuna Ocean can’t compete.. **** stars
    (i’m not related to Profuna Ocean, i just like to read reviews)

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    • Mentioning whether a singer is “good” or not is not only entirely subjective (I mean, some people even think Neil Young is a good singer), but should really only come into play if it affects the whole in one way or another.

      And listing what instruments are played is a bit like reviewing a movie and going through what outfits the characters wear. Again, as long as this doesn’t relate to the main point of the review, it should not be in the text.

      If all you got out of it was that SW is great and PO are not as great, I apologize – even though I never really said that. I was attempting to place this album in an historical context and noting its clear lack of ambition, leading to a fairly staid product that may well be appreciated by people who like that sort of thing.

      And, honestly, economics never dictates creativity, so bringing up the budget is entirely pointless (again, unless it relates to a greater point).

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  4. Knowing where the band is from is important because it shows you acknowledge their country of origin and the musical history that follows the band. It shows Musical Progress and one doesn’t have to go on for too long about that but a necessary element. I agree with the reader Eric, there is no mention about the album itself as far as the musicianship or anything else along those lines. Yes John is entitled to his opinions of an album and how he sees fit to review it. Not everyone has to enjoy what or how he writes but he has an audience and ought to be heard. Your answer to Eric about saying that “its clear lack of ambition, leading to a fairly staid product that may well be appreciated by people who like that sort of thing.” , a pretty profound statement and an insult to those who like this band by saying that they like albums/bands who lack ambition in your opinion and you go on to say that there’s room for safe-players and workmen in your review, meaning what? That only the lay person or musician will enjoy this album and that the musical elite would snub their nose at it? Could you please explain this?

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  5. Now, now boys, we can all play together nicely, I read the review, with an unbiased opinion, however it seems nothing short of biased. We do all have the right to like what we like. We also have a right to a voice. However I find it hard to view this as a review of Profuna Ocean – In Vacuum (2016), as most of the review centers around Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. If it were a comparison review then I would understand, however in centering around a band opposite of the one mentioned, it leads your readers to question where you are heading with your review.
    It is rather difficult in following along, also when you do not clearly state the pretensions, (you may like to edit your spelling), that Prog embraces. I do not find Prog to be pretentious, however if you prefer to say that at times it carries an air of pretense in certain songs, I would ask what led you to that conclusion.
    I must argue with you that the history of the band and its origin plays a defining role in the style of music associated with said band. For instance, a band from Ireland will greatly differ a band from Africa or South America. It also defines certain songs within the band, for a member to be experiencing difficult times in their life, causes them to either reject it or embrace it in a way they feel led to in their music. Ballads are for love and loss and lost love, a soft joy or sadness and many things, where as a harder rock anthem will be for other things.
    To further take in this review, it calls to question, what standards of music workmen, (of what sort we cannot be sure, but leads one to assume a layperson), are to have. Which also leads to the conclusion that a layperson cannot have a dignified or educated opinion on music in general, Prog or not.

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