I absolutely love it when bands get better with each release, especially when they have made stylistic changes along the way. Oceans of Slumber are getting ready to release a self-titled album on September 4th, and I think the decision to make it self-titled is very revealing. This feels like their most quintessential album yet.
Oceans of Slumber hails from Houston, Texas. The band has had a major shakeup since 2018’s “The Banished Heart”. The new lineup is Cammie Gilbert on lead vocals, Jessie Santos and Alexander Lucian on guitars and backing vocals, Semir Ozerkan on bass, Dobber Beverly on drums, piano, and synths, and Mat Aleman on keyboard. You will notice that they now have a dedicated keyboardist, and I think that change has yielded fantastic results.
Oceans of Slumber plays a heavy progressive metal with death metal influences. Their sound is much deeper than that description would suggest, however. Their sound pays tribute to classic metal acts from the 80s and 90s, while also twisting in pop, prog, and cinematic ideas. Cammie’s voice sets the band apart, too, which her Southern Gothic tendencies and immense technical ability.
I first started listening to Oceans of Slumber with 2016’s “Winter”. That album is still a wonderful work from the band, but “The Banished Heart” took their formula to soaring heights. In fact, the title track was my favorite song of the year, and definitely one of my favorites of the last decade. However, I think that album was only playing with ideas that are now pouring out of every crevice on this self-titled release.
While their sound on the surface may be similar, it feels like more gravity is given to Cammie’s voice, and the band has also woven much more space into their songs, allowing them to grow and flourish with each listen. On top of that, I feel like a cinematic presentation is prioritized, with some songs feeling like interludes and transitional thoughts to help the album feel whole and inspired, and I think additional keys help filled in the spaces that might have occurred on previous albums. Instead of being relentlessly heavy, the band has balanced their sound for greater impact.
I think the opener “The Soundtrack to My Last Day” is a wonderful example of these changes. The song contains moments of seriously heavy guitars with some awesome harsh vox, but there are other moments where Cammie’s voice alone makes the song feel haunting and heavy, just in a different way. The collision of textures, styles, and performances makes this opening track a roller coaster with climaxes that are so, so good.
Many of the songs on the record have this effect. In fact, as I look at the track listing, there just isn’t a bad or even average track on the album. The band released a few singles, all of which are great, especially when you hear them in the album itself. “A Return to the Earth Below”, “The Adorned Fathomless Creation”, “To the Sea (A Tolling of Bells)”, and “The Colors of Grace” (featuring Mick Moss from Antimatter) are all amazing songs. I particularly like “The Adorned Fathomless Creation” and the instrumental track that leads into it, called “Imperfect Divinity”. That song is ambient and intimidating in how it sets up the following song, which is a compellingly heavy track with tons of harsh vox and an addictive central riff. “The Colors of Grace” is also a favorite with its balladic style and potent emotions.
My favorites on the album are “Pray for Fire”, “September (Momentaria)”, “The Red Flower”, and (surprisingly if you know how I feel about covers) “Wolf Moon”, a tribute to Type O Negative’s classic song. Let’s discuss the last three first. “Wolf Moon” is a brilliant cover that impregnates the original with the sound and lurking emotions of Oceans of Slumber. Instead of copying it, the band has injected subtlety and even a bluesy sound that just feels right. Speaking of subtlety, “The Red Flower” is a slow burning track that expresses fiery feelings in the midst of spacious, ambient music. It has more effect each time I hear it. “September” is actually an instrumental track that is desperately beautiful. Dobber’s piano is delicate and vulnerable, and the subtle orchestrations elevate it so well. I’d love to hear an entire album of Dobber’s piano musings.
“Pray for Fire” is my favorite overall, and will definitely be one of my favorite songs of the year. What a song! The song is only 7 minutes long, but it goes through so many amazing transitions. It starts out with fantastic acoustic guitar, and slowly builds with Cammie’s voice into a rolling fury of metal and passion. The second half has a cinematic and atmospheric portion where Cammie sounds evocative and almost unsettling. I love every second of this track.
Oceans of Slumber have made a name for themselves over the last few years. I saw them play with Evergrey a few years back, and their performance has stayed with me. I knew I needed to keep my eye on them, and they have not disappointed me yet. Combining maturity, gravity, and authority with a balanced display of monolithic bombast and dramatic refinement, this record deserves its place as one of the best of 2020.
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