I’d be the first to admit that I’m no expert in prog-metal although I can tell you a great deal about the prog of the 70s, and the relationship of the prog revival of the 90s to metal. Marketed as ‘prog-metal’, the recent release of Floating Worlds’ Battleship Oceania (Pride & Joy Music, 2019) may not be quite heavy enough to satisfy metal fans and though it undeniably includes moments of melodic or symphonic rock, it contains only a few of the defining features that might allow it to be placed in the same section as some of the more household prog-metal names that you find in your local record store.
Formed in 1998 by guitarist Andreas V, Floating Worlds have undergone a number of personnel changes and self-released two albums prior to Battleship Oceania, Only a Dream Can Kill a Dream (2007) and Below the Sea of Light (2013) but, with a band line-up of Andreas V (guitars, keyboards), Sophia Assarioti (keyboards), Nikitas Mandolas (drums), Mike Papadopoulos (bass) and Jon Soti (vocals) augmented by co-producer Dion Christodoulatos on acoustic guitar, and male and female choir sections, they are obviously very pleased with the way their latest release has turned out. Though the band members may have changed, there’s a nice bit of thematic continuity between Below the Sea of Light and Battleship Oceania apart from the obvious sea reference; the use of the same font for the band name and album titles helps create a distinct identity, and the CD presentation of Battleship Oceania is a nice piece of design.
Combining a modern morality tale with Greek myth, Battleship Oceania challenges the ‘might is right’ militaristic view, the work of the intelligence-gathering community, and the veracity of mass-media that supports ethically dubious standpoints and the way it manipulates public opinion. The gods are angered when Oceania sinks a passenger ship, the battleship’s crew having been told that their target was filled with terrorists when in fact they’d just murdered innocent civilians; the gods curse the Oceania and its crew until the truth is revealed by a sailor who sees the captain’s diary, revealing a government plot to start a war to kick-start the economy with investment in the industrial-military machine.
The curse, to remain forever on the Oceania without ever reaching land, engaging any other vessel it meets, which can only be lifted by killing a member of the crew, has a twist: one of the killer’s loved ones will also die. When the captain is confronted he admits knowing that the target was a civilian vessel but confesses that he was driven by self interest and a lust for power and before he can be led away to the ship’s brig, he shoots his accuser and, as the god’s willed, the captain dies. Realising that the crew were deceived by their captain and innocent of any complicity in the destruction of the civilian ship the gods lift their curse, but the sailors agree to scuttle the ship in a rejection of war.
Despite evoking Greek myth, this is a straightforward narrative, unlike Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which has been set to music by David Bedford and Höstsonaten, where the Mariner’s supernatural tale related to a wedding guest elicits a reaction that changes from bemusement to impatience to fear to fascination, and though Battleship Oceania introduces us to different players there is little depth in their characterisation.
The instrumental opener Oceania is very effective in setting the scene and following a segue into Sailing into History they appear to have sailed into prog-metal waters. Jon Soti has a decent voice and the lower register treatment of Michalis Giohalas’ chorused vocals add to the symphonic palette, joining the not insignificant keyboard parts. For those who prefer their metal to their prog, there are fast riffs punctuated with staccato sections and brief passages of shredding throughout the piece but the album is built up around orchestral keyboards and could never be classed as archetypal metal. Smatterings of experimentation indicate some thought has gone into the realisation of the concept but with spoken word announcements in clipped English tones, a possible reference to the British clinging to the belief that Britannia still rules the waves, the album sometimes feels as though it has strayed into West End or Broadway show territory. My two least favourite tracks are The Empire of the Media, upbeat infectious pop that puts it at odds with the preferred genre of the target audience, and The Last Goodbye, which mixes Soviet-era martial music with a chant you might hear at an anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square. The most satisfying are the final three songs, Devine Love with its operatic vocals and yearning guitar, the epic, anthemic Endless Sleep where there’s a decent melody and good variation which make it the most proggy of all the tracks (with a running time of over 11 minutes), and the final guitar-laden instrumental Island of Dreams.
My major problem with the album is the lyric writing. I’d prefer not to be over-critical because I only speak English and Soti sings well enough, but he’s constrained by the song words, especially when explaining the story (New Mission, the verbally explicit Game of Thrones, Captain Evil) and unfortunately I think the lyrics detract from what is a pretty solid musical base.
...but it’s not prog-metal