There was a considerable turnover in the ranks of Cenotaph after “The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows” – and as such it isn’t very surprising to note that a change in style would occur reflecting that shift. Where “The Gloomy…” was an occult and dark sounding record in vein of Incantation and Asphyx, “Riding Our Black Oceans” is far more technical, abstract and Swedish in tone and delivery. The influence of “The Red In the Sky Is Ours” era At the Gates is obvious, and while the playing style is similar to that of the album that came before, the writing style is completely and utterly different. Even the cover photography is a far cry stylistically from that record released some two years previous. This was a wholly different band with a different artistic vision. The old Cenotaph sound might have been abandoned, but the rejuvenated and energetic approach with what Cenotaph attacks their new vision is equal, if not better.
Where “The Gloomy…” was a oppressive and tenebrous album laden with and drenched in reverb, Corchado’s unearthly grunts and spooky synthesizers, this record sounds a lot more open-ended and, for a lack of a better term, clear. That is not to say this record sounds happy, or even remotely upbeat. No, far from it. The long winding songs on this record permeate an aura of estrangement, hopelessness and cold uncaring. The instrumental title track has just an acoustic guitar and little else. The most known track from this session is ‘Soul Profundis’, a midtempo crusher that channels the best of early At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity. Like the preceding record there’s lively interaction between fast and slow sections, and Clorio’s drumming is as unrelenting as ever.
Highlights of the record include ‘Grief to Oscuro’, the hugely atmospheric instrumental title track and ‘Soul Profundis’. The last track deserves a special mention as it includes everything which makes melodic death metal so poignant and strong when done right. Fast passages segue into doom-like dirges, acoustics merge flawlessly with death metal and a passionate vocal performance and funky bass guitar playing add to the fireworks. If you decide to sample a track of this record, that one comes highly recommended.
The dry and somewhat clinical production is mostly similar to that of “The Gloomy…”, but on all fronts is it cleaner and less gritty. The guitar tone goes for the Sunlight Studio type sound, and the drum kit sounds more organic, full and warm this time around. There is more clarity, definition and bite to the guitars here, and especially the leads/solos benefit from this treatment. The bass guitar can be clearly heard popping and plucking away, while the record is not overly bass-heavy the kickdrums and bass guitar thankfully do add to the overall heaviness quota. The acoustics sound roomy, and never clash with the earthy production. That is not to say that there aren’t any faults with the production work. For one, there’s little low end to the whole – and it does tend to sound a bit processed and, well, too dry and lacking in crunch at times.
From the preceding record only Oscar Clorio (drums) and César Sánchez (guitars) remain. Julio Viterbo makes his debut on guitar here, and the riffing and use of unconventional melody is akin to that of Alf Svensson from At the Gates. The shouted shrieks of Edgardo González mostly ape Tompa Lindberg’s style on the aforementioned At the Gates record, and the bass guitar playing of Fernando Garcilazo is surprisingly vital to the compositions. It is a lot more adventurous than many of their contemporaries in North America and Europe. It is never wildly exotic or funky, but it does add a lot of flair to the riffs and the swirling and conflicting melodies.
There exist several pressings of this record. The original album was released by Cyber Music in 1994. In 1999 the album was re-issued by Mexican label Oz Records first in its original form. The same label re-released the album a second time, now adding 5 bonus tracks, of which 3 live tracks and two studio outtakes. The three live tracks are ‘Crying Frost’ and ‘Lorn Ends’ two tracks that would appear on Cenotaph’s next album “Epic Rites” and a live recording of ‘The Solitudes’. ‘As the Darkness Burns’ would appear on “Epic Rites” as well. ‘Everlasting Command’ would appear in its definitive form on the band’s final album “Saga Belica” from 2002.
If you like a different on the early sound of At the Gates then this album is certainly worthy of your consideration and time.