Thursday, September 15, 2016

review by Matt Spall: Oceans Of Slumber

Artist: Oceans Of Slumber
Album Title: Winter
Label: Century Media Records
Date of Release: 4 March 2016
I am forever listening to artists in the more commercial music spheres and saying things like ‘I bet he/she would sound better with a crunching riff behind them’ or ‘what a waste of talent, they should be singing on top of far better music than that’. It frustrates those around me no end, leading some to even refer to me as a narrow-minded music snob. I don’t necessarily disagree and these comments are usually met with an amused glint in my eye. After all, I’m guilty as charged.
However, if there’s ever a band or artist to prove my point, it’s Oceans Of Slumber and their vocalist Cammie Gilbert. This lady has a voice that is soulful and melodic, but also powerful and full of attitude. She is the kind of vocalist that could potentially sing anything, be it pop, rock, soul, you name it. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine her doing such a thing. And yet, here she is, fronting an extreme metal band. And I’m vindicated, because she sounds brilliant.
Naturally, with such a vocalist, the remainder of Oceans Of Slumber could be plunged into the abyss of obscurity. But they are not; far from it.
Oceans of Slumber are difficult to categorise when it comes to the music itself. There are elements of death, symphonic, doom and progressive metal, not to mention touches of folk, alt rock and a plethora of other ideas. The result is ‘Winter’ the Texan sextet’s sophomore album and it’s a bit of a belter if I’m honest. Some might deride the band for trying too much or for lacking a clearer focus. I prefer to look at it from the perspective that Oceans Of Slumber are enthusiastic and ambitious, willing to try their hand at whatever they think would further a composition and take it from the humdrum to something interesting and engaging. Surely, that’s one of the cornerstones of properly progressive music?
As I sit and write this review, I have one question firmly in my mind: do I like this album? The answer is ‘yes’ and the more I listen, the more forcefully and enthusiastically I reply.
The title track opens ‘Winter’ and it is arguably one of the best tracks on the album. It drips with emotion, the melodies are a thing of understated beauty and there’s a sombre atmosphere that permeates throughout, heightened by a rich, clear production. As it develops, the heaviness subtly increases too, albeit remaining interspersed between the quieter more reflective moments. The aforementioned vocals are captivating; unique and the perfect counterpoint to the growls that appear in the second half of the track. The guitar tones are satisfyingly muscular and the drumming displays plenty of variety and finesse within a complex composition.
The cover of the somewhat over-played and saturated ‘Nights In White Satin’ is good but not essential and can be forgiven thanks to what surrounds it. ‘Devout’ is a generally furious blast beat-ridden beast where extreme metal flirts with vocals that are melodic and soothing one moment, then full of angst the next. The slower, more considered mid-section is complimented by a moody guitar solo, an intelligent rhythm section and more sophisticated melody. ‘Lullaby’ on the other hand is just that – a short and quiet Celtic-inspired piece dominated by sensitive, ethereal vocals which leads into the exquisite ‘Laid To Rest’. Another short piece, this one is brought to life by some gorgeous acoustic guitar work and an emotional melody.
Elsewhere, ‘Suffer The Last Bridge’ stands out thanks to more great vocals and a demonstrable modern alternative hard rock vibe where the bass guitar really comes into its own. ‘Turpentine’ ends with a quirky jazz-like flourish that is a surprise given the preceding four minutes whilst ‘Apologue’ is a fast, aggressive beast dominated by fast blast beats and intense growled vocals, complimented by a variety of riff styles. There are chugging death/doom influenced riffs, a more modern-sounding guitar attack that verges on beat-down territory as well as a more staccato black metal delivery.
Undeniably, ‘Winter’ is a huge step up for Oceans Of Slumber from their debut ‘Aetherial’. The flow of the album could perhaps be better as the momentum of the record is slightly compromised in the mid-section. And thanks to the sheer variety and willingness to experiment, the cohesiveness of the record is frequently tested. That said, there are far more positives than negatives to take from ‘Winter’, to the point where I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this album to anyone who will listen to me.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
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