Oceans of Slumber – Oceans of Slumber Review

An eponymous album midway through a band’s career can often signal a fresh start, or a change in direction. Here on Oceans of Slumber’s fourth album – and third with Cammie Gilbert at the helm – the shift is in personnel, and thus philosophy. Since the release of 2018’s The Banished Heart, both guitar players and the bassist have departed. Enter Alexander Lucian and Jessie Santos on guitars,1 and Semir Ozerkan on bass, and we have according to the band their most cohesive lineup yet. With six members rowing in the same direction, can an already strong template be further tempered?

On a first casual listen, one is tempted to say no, but that is because Oceans of Slumber challenge the listener like few others do. The eleven original songs presented are dense, packed to the rim with sumptuous instrumentation and arrangements, a style that does not lend itself to just listening to a few seconds of a song. Close listens – and a lot of them – reveal both the true beauty and the raw aggression of the album. “The Soundtrack to My Last Day” sets the stage for what is to come. It is a staggeringly lush, exquisite progressive doom track with a blast of death metal in its middle, just to keep things honest. Second song “Pray for Fire” may seem like it’s already a respite from the onslaught, as it opens with gentle vocals atop acoustic strumming, but it moves into heavier form at the midpoint, and features an incredibly menacing spoken word outro from Gilbert: “They pray for forgiveness, but I pray for fire…”

“I Mourn These Yellow Leaves” is the longest song on Oceans of Slumber at eight minutes. As with every song, Gilbert’s delivery is perfect, and the vocal melody here is one of the few instantly memorable moments on the album. What starts as a captivating doom song transitions into furious death metal prior to the midway mark, the growls in sweet juxtaposition to Gilbert’s emotional cleans. This is the album’s strongest track, a lesson in arrangement. Not often can these transitions be accomplished in a meaningful way. Even the final couple of minutes, as a lone piano accompanies Gilbert, make perfect sense. And while the band shines (the three newest members acquit themselves admirably, and drummer Dobber Beverly tones it down slightly from the last album, his fills always hitting the mark) the focal point is definitely Gilbert’s voice, which shines on every song. Whether it’s the raw emotion of “The Red Flower” or the mild histrionics of “To the Sea,” Gilbert firmly cements her place as one of rock’s premiere vocalists.

While the songwriting has improved, remnants of The Banished Heart’s template remain. This is a long album, seventy-two minutes to be exact, and that can take its toll on the listener, especially with weighty lyrics that deal with personal battles, both internal and societal. The two interludes presented are delicate and cinematic, offering just enough respite to allow us to carry on listening. Again Gilbert has a duet, this time with Antimatter’s Nick Moss on the sweet ballad “The Colors of Grace.” And a darkly extravagant cover of the already excellent Type O Negative song “Wolf Moon” ends the album with a glistening arrangement and fantastic vocal (and was my favorite song on first listen). Top it all off with a balanced mix from Dan Swanö and you’ve got a winner.

Oceans of Slumber continue to demand their listeners’ attention, delivering their most challenging and rewarding album yet. While it has always taken multiple listens to get to the heart of the band’s songs, on this outing the rewards are greater than in the past. We can’t easily categorize this band as doom, or progressive metal, or death metal; rather, they need to be considered something broader. I prefer the term opulent metal. The songs here are lush, extravagant, dramatic, and provocative. The songwriting is a step up from previous already strong work. The revamped lineup plays with an air of confidence, and it is easy to hear that all six band members are fully committed to the band’s musical direction. There’s still room to grow, which is great, but four albums in Oceans of Slumber have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with.

Rating: 4.0
DR: 62 | Format Reviewed: PCM
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: oceansofslumber.com | oceansofslumber.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/oceansofslumber
Release Worldwide: September 4th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. And I believe Lucian adds the harsh vocals.
  2. I was also given the vinyl master of the opening track. DR13. Sweet.
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