The self-titled fourth album from Houston’s Oceans of Slumber has been eagerly anticipated, following the critical acclaim heaped upon their 2018 offering, The Banished Heart. While Oceans of Slumber tend to be described as progressive doom, their sound is as unique as it is difficult to define. Taking the listener on a complex journey of emotion with an underlying atmosphere of foreboding throughout, this album sees them expand their fearless approach to creating sonic landscapes.
Cammie Gilbert’s stunning vocals continue to be the stand-out feature of Oceans of Slumber. Her rich, poetic voice gives a soulful quality that is a major contributor to OoS distinctiveness and feels as up-close and mesmerizing as if it were a live performance. Her soaring melodies often begin in classic forms that subsequently meander onto surprising paths. For example, “To The Sea” begins as a simple, beautiful ballad that builds into southern Gothic with a gospel-like refrain at the end, achieving heaviness without the need for distorted guitars.
Dobber Beverly’s drumming is another defining feature of the band. Constantly surprising and unusual, it is the Oceans of Slumber drumming that defines the group’s progressive nature, transforming songs into very different beasts than the other instrumentation might have suggested. And, beyond the lead vocals and drums, this album is filled with impressive instrumentalism. Oceans of Slumber have expanded their range, creating atmospherics that are often cinematic in scope. Guitars interplay between shimmering cleans and doomy distorted riffs. OoS have embraced growled vocals on many tracks, the sparing placement of these adding an essential grit to the sound. There is also some lovely use of keyboards, such as the old-world ghostly piano during “September (Those Who Come Before).” Add some menacing spoken word in “Pray For Fire,” a catchily accessible duet with Antimatter’s Mick Moss (“Colors Of Grace”), two instrumental interludes, and a stripped-back cover of Type O Negative’s “Wolf Moon”… there is a lot going on.
The result is a fluidity of style that encompasses multiple genres but somehow manages to sound cohesive. First track “Soundtrack To My Last Day” begins as a progressive ballad, builds into death metal riffing, growls and double-kick drums then comes full circle by the end of the track. “The Adorned Fathomless Creation” veers between full-on death metal and pop ballad, and it shouldn’t work but it does, triumphantly. “Total Failure Apparatus” begins as black metal, subsequently alternating with soaring clean vocal passages that somehow fit perfectly.
Not bound by genre conventions, Oceans of Slumber have neither felt bound by classic song structures, and their song-writing continues to tighten, although it could certainly not be described as traditional. Often the tracks feel less like songs and more like series of extraordinary moments. For example, their first release “A Return To The Earth Below” begins as a verse-chorus-verse-chorus doom-pop song that evokes gorgeous nostalgia. It’s irresistible, this one, impossible to only listen once. But the second half of the song evolves into a yearning piano contemplation that heartbreakingly does not return to the original idea, and this structure feels designed to torment the listener. These emotional builds come and go in waves, appropriate to the band’s name and the frequent references to the sea.
All this adds up to an album that is a challenging yet incredibly moving listen. At one hour and twelve minutes, it can often feel emotionally exhausting as you are pulled through complex landscapes that always teeter on the brink of immense darkness. Cammie has succeeded in writing lyrics that feel personal to everyone. When there are moments of tenderness that rise through the darkness, they are unbearably sad and you can be left crushed by the weight of your own emotion. Which is entirely the aim. Most exciting about Oceans of Slumber is that their magnum opus is probably still ahead of them, as we see with this album the blossoming of huge creative capabilities.
Oceans of Slumber Track Listing:
1. Soundtrack to My Last Day
2. Pray for Fire
3. A Return to the Earth Below
4. Imperfect Divinity
5. The Adorned Fathomless Creation
6. To The Sea
7. The Colors of Grace
8. I Mourn These Yellow Leaves
9. September (Those Who Come Before)
10. Total Failure Apparatus
11. The Red Flower
12. Wolf Moon
Run Time: 1h 12 mins
Release Date: September 4, 2020
Record Label: Century Media Records