Oceans of Slumber – Starlight and Ash Review

Anyone who follows Oceans of Slumber on social media is aware of the stylistic evolution the band has been undertaking. The band, notably leaders Cammie Gilbert and Dobber Beverly, have been hammering on the fact that this new album will not be another progressive doom metal outing. Starlight and Ash is the band’s fifth album; fourth with Gilbert at the helm, and second in a row with the current lineup. The fact that they have all stuck around through the turmoil of the last couple of years and have also all bought into the stylistic shift is a positive thing. But will they see such similar success as, say, Anathema, who also made a move away from metal?

While the style of music played by Oceans of Slumber has changed, the feel of that music has not. The music is hot, humid, sultry, everything one envisions when one thinks of the deep south. It most certainly is not “metal” any more, but this is a welcome and fitting evolution. “The Water’s Rising” opens with a seductive piano melody beneath Gilberts croons. As if to remind us of where they came from, the languid pace picks up noticeably towards the end, as the band plunges headlong towards the finish line. This is a template that works well elsewhere, such as the excellent “Red Forest Roads” and “Just A Day.” Despite these tempo changes, absent are any convincing signs of metal. This is dark and gloomy rock at its best, more in line with Chelsea Wolfe and A.A. Williams than Opeth (as the band has been compared to in the past). And note: that is not a complaint. These are exquisite songs.

“Star Altar” might be the closest to a typical doom metal song, with distorted guitars and bombastic drums. This is the song that most closely resembles Oceans of Slumber’s earlier output, heavier but also with some sumptuous keyboard parts floating just below the surface. And few bands are as good at taking cover songs and really making them their own. “House of the Rising Sun” is a slow burn, menacing in its understatement, with a great violin arrangement courtesy Carla Kihlstedt. Elsewhere the band shows their penchant for experimentation on “The Hanging Tree,” a simply beautiful number that makes use of electronic drum sounds to great effect.

Electronic flourishes in some of Dobber Beverly’s drum sounds are also indicative of their evolving sound. Overall production is very strong, with Gilbert’s vocals and Beverly’s drums taking center stage. At times it would be nice to have the guitars or keyboards higher in the mix, though, as they can struggle to be heard. On the plus side, the arrangements are top notch, sparse and yet more effective than a wall of sound would be. This is an album whose impact is felt by what is absent as much as what is present. And being that this is the band’s shortest album to date, the immediacy of the songs is prevalent. There is no unnecessary fat to be trimmed here, with only one song stretching beyond six minutes.

It’s one thing to accept the evolution of a band one admires, and to maintain one’s connection with that band as they move away from what was originally compelling about them. Usually the key to this is great songs; if the band can write strong material, who are we to lob pronouncements into the ether? In the case of Starlight and Ash, Oceans of Slumber have shown they can write in a southern gothic style successfully. The songs here are beautifully composed and the evolution of the band is a logical next step. Starlight and Ash is a beautiful and poingnant listen, and at least in my own case it makes me eager to hear what they come up with next.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: oceansofslumber.bandcamp.com | oceansofslumber.com | facebook.com/oceansofslumber
Release Worldwide: July 21, 2022

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