Artist: Oceans Of Slumber
Album Title: Oceans Of Slumber
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 4 September 2020
Let’s immediately cut to the chase: If you thought that Oceans Of Slumber were good previously, just wait until you hear this new record. And if you maybe didn’t click with the band previously, just wait until you hear this new record. They often say that bands will name an album or a song after themselves if they are proud of it; the rock and metal world is littered with examples, from Metallica’s ‘Black’ album, to Anathema’s electric track of the same name on ‘Distant Satellites’. And now, you can add ‘Oceans Of Slumber’ to that list. This new record from the Texans is insane.
There’s important context that needs to be explained too, because it makes the results even more incredible. Most bands will experience line-up difficulties along the way but in the case of Oceans Of Slumber, things have been pretty drastic. Since the release of ‘The Banished Heart’, the core trio of drummer Dobber Beverley, vocalist Cammie Gilbert and keyboardist Mat V. Aleman have had to replace their entire string section, meaning two guitarists and a bassist. For most bands, this may have signalled the end. Not for Oceans, because they are clearly made of sterner stuff; the kind of resolve and dedication that is lacking far too much these days. Instead of throwing in the towel, they have recruited guitarists Alexander Lucian and Jessie Santos, and bassist Semir Ozerkan, a nd carried on steadfastly.
Naturally, with such a dramatic change in the personnel, you’re going to get a slight change in the sound of the band and the same is true here. It’d simply be impossible if that wasn’t the case. So, whilst the core approach remains very similar, a couple of things really make me sit up and take notice. The first is the guitar tones of the newbies. I adore the sound used by Santos and Lucian when they are crunching out the cataclysmic death/doom riffs, but I also feel that their touch and feel when delivering an acoustic, or quieter section, is deft, sensitive, and just a little more to my taste. At both ends of the spectrum, these guys excel and are a more than welcome addition to the collective.
I also cannot shake the feeling that for all the heaviness, torment, and emotion that exudes from Oceans Of Slumber’s music, this record is simply more beautiful than those that have gone before. I am not deriding any of the previous three records because there are songs on each that still send shivers down my spine. They are simply great albums. Instead, what I actually mean is that ‘Oceans Of Slumber’ contains more melody overall. Or, more precisely, it contains more melody that speaks to me so powerfully and immediately. As a result, I’m in love with this music in a way that I wasn’t expecting. These musicians are good – we all knew that. But this record takes them to another level.
Despite all of the variation on this album, I would be prepared to suggest that this is the smoothest and most cohesive of all their offerings too. Yes, you get moments of barely-contained death metal aggression with growled vocals and inhuman drum blasts. Yes, you get lumbering and lurching doom metal riffs. Yes, you get quiet, fragile, introspective sections. Yes, you get plenty of progressive intent shining through within the majority of the compositions. Yes, these songs contain raw, unfiltered human anguish and emotion, perhaps more than ever as many difficult subjects are tackled within the album. And yes, you sometimes get all these things within a single track. But the song writing has gone up another notch, meaning that the transitions are more subtle and less clunky, leading to that sense of smoothness and cohesiveness throughout. This record takes you on a journey. A breathless, aching, violent, beautiful journey it may be, but it’s a journey upon which I am delighted to be a passenger.
It would take far too long to discuss each individual track in isolation, so instead, I’m going to pick out a few of my favourites. Mind you, if I’m not careful, such an exercise might inevitably lead to a mention of each of the twelve songs because I don’t think I dislike any of them. But I will try to be strong and avoid the temptation.
First up is ‘The Soundtrack To My Last Day’, which sets the tone for the album wonderfully. Do I hear a hint of Katatonia in the opening moments? I think I do, but from there, we’re left battered by an enormous, yet surprisingly melodic riff, before things calm to allow the unique and gorgeous voice of Cammie Gilbert to pierce through. She simply gets better and you find yourself living every word as she sings with power, delicacy, and emotion in equal measure. Acoustic guitars, not dissimilar to the likes of Opeth emerge as the tumult clears away for a short while. But it isn’t long until we’re crushed under the weight of a behemoth of a riff, complete with growled vocals and then we’re off into death metal territory via a churning, dirty riff and brutal blasts courtesy of drummer Dobber Beverley.
The subterranean bass rumble and bright acoustic guitars that signal the introduction of ‘Pray For Fire’ is a fascinating combination. The dexterity and the finesse demonstrated in the early stages are utterly beguiling as are the melodic refrains, led by Gilbert with aplomb. Heaviness is never far away though and again those distorted guitar tones do strange things to the hairs on the back of my neck. If anything, it is an even more immediate song than the opener and I simply lap it up, as it weaves through a myriad of musical styles and textures, including haunting minimalism with a demonstrable Gothic sheen and a touch of black metal battery as Gilbert talks over the soundscape with dramatic intent.
I won’t dwell upon the lead single, ‘A Return To The Earth Below’, as you’re bound to have heard it by now. Except to say that it’s another stunning composition as addictive as it is heart wrenching.
The skills of Mat V. Aleman come to the fore within the cinematic and darkly atmospheric ‘Imperfect Divinity’. Normally instrumentals like this act as filler or just as a palette cleanser, but there is something deeply hypnotic and entrancing about it, meaning it is compulsive listening.
Cognisant that I have skipped over several excellent songs, I have to move to the double header of ‘The Colours Of Grace’ and ‘I Mourn These Yellowed Leaves’ as this duo is the high water mark for me on this incredible record. The former is a beautiful quasi-ballad featuring a vocal duet with Mike Moss of Antimatter and which offers the most stunning of melodies, superb vocal performances and just the perfect blend of sophistication and reined-in heaviness. The latter is also adorned with some utterly breath taking melodies, heard from the very outset, once again led by Gilbert who is simply on fire on this album. But the juxtaposition between this and the middle section of the track couldn’t be more pronounced, as Oceans well and truly dive into funeral doom territory, blended with more black metal freneticism and higher-pitched screamed vocals. I cannot tell you just how incredible I find this song, which ends in delicate, sumptuous fashion. More hairs on end, more goose bumps, more shivers; the full works.
I should have talked about a trinity of songs to be honest, because straight after, follows ‘September (Momentaria)’. It is principally a piano-led instrumental with lush orchestration that envelops more and more an achingly poignant central melody, that is so brittle and melancholy that it nearly moves me to tears when I listen.
I’m not normally a fan of cover versions but the closing rendition of Type O Negative’s ‘Wolf Moon’ is equally as enchanting as the rest of the album. It helps that I’m a massive fan of the original, but Oceans Of Slumber breathe new life into an anthem of the Gothic metal genre. The core of the song is faithfully recreated, but with layers of atmospheric synths and Cammie’s interpretation of Pete Steele’s equally unique delivery, there’s enough of a unique edge to keep it interesting and thoroughly enjoyable.
I’m not sure what else there’s left to say about ‘Oceans Of Slumber’. So, in an effort to be brief, I’ll just state that it is, without a doubt, the very best that Oceans Of Slumber have ever sounded. I not only admire the music on this record, but I have completely fallen in love with it. From start to finish, it is a near immaculate body of work that further showcases the skill, passion and dedication of a very special band indeed. ‘Oceans Of Slumber’ is easily one of the best albums of 2020, simple as that.
The Score of Much Metal: 95%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Okyr – Premorbid Intelligence
Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live
Pain Of Salvation – Panther
Vanishing Point – Dead Elysium
Unleash The Archers – Abyss
Veonity – Sorrows
Nyktophobia – What Lasts Forever
Ages – Uncrown
Awake By Design – Awake By Design
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: