This is going to be an attempt at a vaguely experimental type of review – no references to songs or other bands! Aside from the possibility that this may end up being massively annoying to you lovely readers, is it even possible nowadays to write about an album, potentially for an audience that may not have heard the band at all, and for that review to still get the desired feeling across and find the right fans? We’ll see…
Without prior knowledge, Houston, Texas isn’t the first place I’d have named if asked where I thought Oceans of Slumber came from. This is a band that does loud and heavy, but it’s often balanced shortly before or soon afterwards with delicacy, softness, and in many cases what sounds like sadness and genuine emotion – not exactly what us Brits would usually associate with the “larger than life” Texas. However, this is precisely what their new album The Banished Heart delivers.
The Banished Heart’s mix of doom, death and progressive metal is a particularly enticing listen. It’s both heavier and, in my opinion, more melancholy than their previous albums. There’s a notable shift in the guitar work that feels like it brings in more riffs while still keeping the mood setting chords that are such a staple of their sound. I have to say it’s a formula that really works for me. It caught my attention right away and has kept it ever since; unlike Winter, which I appreciated very much but would sometimes find myself getting distracted halfway through.
It feels like there’s been a focus on bringing some more interesting vocal dynamics out front. I don’t mean in the contrast between lead vocalist Cammie Gilbert’s clean singing and guitarist Sean Gary’s gruff vocals, but it’s the placement of each type of singing. It’s more common to find Cammie’s voice sing quite gently over the heavier blast beat-driven sections now than before, for example. This definitely helps add a little more of their own musical identity – though that has never been much of a problem for them, as her voice has always been very particular and recognisable.
When songs break into different sections, it feels more connected than earlier material; there’s a thematic feel that continues right through, even if the music is very different. I found that when there was a change mid-song in their last album, it could feel a little more forced, as if the band wanted to mix genres for the sake of it and maybe with a little less consideration than they have now. There’s cohesion all the way through here, which for me was slightly lacking previously.
As was the case on their older work there’s an extraordinary display of talent from all the musicians in the band, but it never feels forced or as if they’re showing off and trying to prove how skilled they are – it always serves the song. I like this fact immensely, as it shows a level of musical maturity that can be quite rare to find in bands that can be put in beside the death metal label.
This is a long album at around 65 minutes, with a few of the songs reaching some way beyond the 7 and even 9 minute mark. There is a lot to listen to, and it’s an album which has been carefully paced with a few unexpected moments here and there. Everyone involved has obviously put a lot of care and thought into the whole process, from writing all the way through to song order. There are a couple of shorter almost ambient instrumental tracks through the album as well as a soft track at the end which is a fitting end to the album and highlights the quite beautiful vocals.
At this point I should emphasise how well recorded this is, aside from one or two moments where it sounds very slightly over-compressed. The drummer, Dobber Beverly who seems to go from strength to strength as a player, also produced the album and has done a very fine job (along with their well established tracking, mixing and mastering team).
I’ve been listening to this pretty continuously since I received it for review some days ago. It’s quite remarkable that still, many listens later, I find more to like each time. It would be quite a task to go into specific detail, describing the album song by song, and hope to do any justice with what Oceans of Slumber have achieved here. There are so many points of interest in almost every song that I’d need to write something three times as long as I’ve already done.
I think the best thing is that I suggest, quite strongly, that if you have any interest in doom, death or progressive metal, you really should give it a try.
The Banished Heart is released on 2nd March through Century Media.