Over the Ocean’s “Be Given to the Soil”

“A brilliantly crafted work of art,” but difficult to engage, says Cameron Barham.

Cameron Barham

out of 10

Over the Ocean
Be Given to the Soil
April 1, 2013
Spartan Records

He who fights with monsters should look to it
that he himself does not become a monster.
And when you gaze long into an abyss
the abyss also gazes into you.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, “Aphorism 146” in Beyond Good and Evil

There are some works of art that are a result of the artist(s) gazing long into the abyss (or into the eternal) and yelling out what they have found inside to which only a minority will stop to listen and feel. This is the case with Over the Ocean’s second full length release, Be Given to the Soil. It is in essence a Jobian cry from a place of pain, loss, confusion, doubt, and despair with the recognition that some things are too mysterious and wonderful to be trivialized in this life. This album leaves behind the assurance and accessibility of their grand first release, Paper House, and sits like a brooding, dark storm on a near horizon unsure and threatening only briefly unleashing its fury in flashes and thunder only to fade in the distance.

The album opens with the lurking “Herons” as Hill menaces: “I have seen the sky turn black, And a storm is coming, A storm is coming on, And I say to myself, I have always been, A good man, Never hurt anyone, But I can be cruel, I can be cruel, Push me now see what I can do.” The gauntlet has been laid down and the way from here is clearly not for the faint of heart. The next track “Riverbed” confronts without poetic nuance the death of a friend in an accident which serves as a source of pain and doubt. Lest you come up for air, “God in My Own Image” crashes in with driving drums and bass as Hill agonizes almost unintelligibly over the deconstruction of what he thought he knew that was merely a reflection of his own imperfections. The conversation continues until the song collapses into the demand for God to show Himself in reality. “Obscene” floats in and starts off as a spacious spoken word piece over bending guitar notes before exploding forth into: “I know the curtain was torn, But there is still, This veil of skin and bone divides, You and me.” “Air in My Lungs” feels almost out of place until it becomes the prelude to “Kiss the Ground” which closes out the first half of the album.

The second half of the album opens with “Owl” which signals a shift into more poetic soil as Hill calls: “Oh, open your eyes, This world is not so black and white.” “Arguing Philosophies,” my personal favorite, blows in like a thunderous storm lightning frustration over simple labels for complex realities. Be Given to the Soil closes with the gentle lament, “Ecology,” the Psalm-like “Into the Darkness,” and “Someone Has to Bleed,” a confession of resolution to live within the mysterious tension between humanity’s limited purview and the endless horizon of the Divine.

Jessie Hill, lead vocals and guitar, Nate Crawford, guitar, Josh Whittle, drums, Ben Crumrine, bass guitar, and Joshua Stephen Bogart, guitar, are phenomenal musicians that execute Be Given to the Soil with precision and passion. The problem (or the point?) is that while this album is a brilliantly crafted work of art, it takes effort to engage and understand what is being communicated lacking accessibility at a number of levels which will make it tough for many to engage it more than once if at all. I am in favor of making people lean in and make some effort to engage art and truth, but, I also realize that too few are willing to lean in particularly when it involves missives from the abyss.

-Cameron Barham, April 2, 2013