It is a delight to see a band on the rise, to watch as a band ascends to their throne. I’ve been watching the dawn of Oceans of Slumber for several years now, and I suspect that their reign over the metal scene is only just beginning. Their new album Starlight and Ash is releasing on July 22nd through Century Media.
Oceans of Slumber comes to us from Houston, Texas; and for the first time in the career, I think that really matters. The band has changed and morphed through the years, switching out personas and musicians. The current lineup is: Cammie Gilbert on vocals, Jessie Santos and Alexander Lucian on guitars, Semir Ozerkan on bass, Dobber Beverly on drums and piano, and Mat Aleman and keys.
Where do I even start with this record? I have long possessed an ideal for Oceans of Slumber, a vision of what they could and should be. Through the years, the band has slowly been inching towards that goal line; from dark, extremely technical metal to their most recent high on their 2020 eponymous album and its emotional, passionate melodic metal. Yet, even with that masterpiece, a part of me still wanted them to keep pushing.
Starlight and Ash is the realization of what Oceans of Slumber has always been. On this record, the band explores a deeply southern Gothic metal with all the trappings. When I say “southern”, I do in fact mean that the band allows themselves some twang, specifically the salty air variety from southern Texas. The twang is less country and more classic rock and blues, if you ask me. But there is another side to this record, too. I hear two distinctly southern traditions, and the second is a deeper, darker New Orleans sort of sound: swamps, voodoo, and all. Cammie, at one time, was working on a project with that focus; I’m not sure what became of that, but the theme has shown up here. I appreciate that, and will savor here every bit of beauty and ruin, creation and destruction, harmony and tumult.
What does that mean for their overall sound? Oceans of Slumber is still a metal band and they still have plenty of heavier, riffier moments. However, this album is much more reserved and evocative than their past creations. Some of the songs are slower, lingering with pride on the gravy drippings of Cammie’s emotional voice and perfect delivery. In fact, I would say that this album has some of the best choruses and vocal lines in general that the band has ever conceived. This album gorges itself upon every luscious note, every enrapturing melody, every entrancing song.
What we get is an album that is heavy, not only in the typical metal way, but also lyrically, spiritually, and emotionally. It hangs and hovers with such passion, suggesting that the band is finally at ease with who they are. Yes, this album flows more naturally than any that came before, and the release of that tension leads us down many savory paths that could only be discovered here and now. This results in a palpable potency in each and every track.
Starlight and Ash has eleven songs, and I love every single one. The first four tracks are impressive right away on first listen, and I feel like the rest get better with age. “The Waters Rising” starts the album with such a delicious tempo that I knew I was in for something special; I love the heaviness of the guitars on this track. “Hearts of Stone” is even better with its stuttering main riff and explosive second half; Cammie’s vocals here are stunning. “The Lighthouse” is a sauntering sort of ballad with southern air in its lungs—I really like the bluesy tempo of the chorus and the subtle guitar touches throughout. “Red Forest Roads” might be my favorite on the album. It is possibly the heaviest song overall, or at least fastest, but only in the second half. The song takes its time, giving us plenty of time to savor and relish before it launches into a superb new chorus that is simply infectious. It is an arresting song that you won’t soon forget.
I really need to mention each and every track on this one; I can’t help myself. I always look forward to the echoing, juicy ballad “The Hanging Tree”, which also has some of my favorite lyrics on the album. “Salvation” is just as good with slow-burning religion, including the baritone backing vocals that come in near the end. “Star Altar” is something of an abstract and off-kilter song with some seriously expressive vocals. “The Spring of 21” is a piano piece from Dobber, who typically offers one such track on each album; I think this might be his best yet with how layered and sensitive it is.
The final three tracks are all winners, too. “Just a Day” is the longest track on the record, and it leads directly in from “The Spring of 21” with Dobber’s gorgeous piano. In fact, this song feels very much like a love song between Cammie and Dobber, from the vulnerable lyrics to the illustrious atmosphere. It gets going with dark riffs and an upbeat temp eventually, and the whole thing just feels doomy and fresh at the same time. “House of the Rising Sun” is a cover of the legendary folk song, and, as much as I normally hate covers, this band has earned my trust through both this song and their previous cover of Type O Negative’s “Wolf Moon”. They really make this one their own, injecting a haunting, evocative aura into it, and Cammie emotes and annunciates in riveting fashion. Finally, “The Shipbuilder’s Son” closes the record with power; I love how it transitions into a theatrical vocal musing in the middle before exploding one last time.
Oceans of Slumber, in my view, are finally living up to their dreamy name. This album has all the darkness, macabre, and gothic tones you could want, but also rich, detailed, storied character and warmth worthy of the region they call home. It just makes you want to mine every depth of this record and sing along to every painstaking moment. Starlight and Ash, indeed.
Find Oceans of Slumber online: