A decade ago, OCEANS OF SLUMBER began their steady metamorphosis when they welcomed Cammie Beverly as their new singer and she took on principal songwriting duties. Her soaring, emotional voice immediately marked them out from other progressive bands and, as the albums went by, they pushed their progressive metal every which way. 2020’s self-titled album, and precursor to this year’s Starlight And Ash, was a sprawling, 70-minute prog opus that took in gothic rock as much as it did OPETH-style progressive death metal. Through every album since 2016’s Winter though, there’s been an ever-shifting undercurrent; subtle at times but there if you were paying attention.
That undercurrent bursts forth to fruition in Starlight And Ash, a bold culmination of OCEANS OF SLUMBER’s work that smashes the previous template and departs from the more typical progressive sphere almost entirely. Describing their sound simply as, “the new Southern gothic”, the sextet push Beverly’s voice, both musically and thematically, to the forefront. Starlight And Ash tells the story of a doomed coastal town and its inhabitants as they dwell on the past and are too stubborn to let go of old dogmas to move forward.
The opening cymbal crash of The Waters Rising makes clear almost from the outset this isn’t the usual steady progression but a giant leap forwards. Calm guitars, minimally distorted; a soulful croon; barebones drumming – it’s a far cry from the more typically embellished fare progressive metal might entail. Instead it’s emotional, doomy and builds steadily to its towering, cathartic release replete with one of few forays into more extreme territory in Dobber Beverly’s double bass drumming.
That masterful command of dynamics and builds into pay off is on full display throughout Starlight And Ash. Hearts Of Stone has sobering chords wrung out of the guitars as if painful; the chorus feels as if it’s about to break out into wailing atop brief chugs and cascading drum fills which pull the song back into the deep. Red Forest Roads is some of OCEANS’ heaviest ever material, despite its acoustic opening, as Beverly’s sorrowful voice intones with slide guitars building underneath. Finally it breaks out into double bass work again, its infrequency acting as more emotional impetus, to sweep up the listener in its tides.
Some fans aren’t going to like Starlight And Ash. That’s unavoidable given the quantum leap the band have taken, pulling back the curtain on a dimension they’ve only hinted at before. Beverly’s blues and gospel background is a powerful as ever here, but rather than being under threat of being subsumed by everything else going on around it, the band have torn up the rulebook of what they “should” sound like and instead she’s provided the perfect vehicle to prove she’s one of the mightiest voices in the genre, period.
Ditching those hulking screams and overwrought intricacies has paid off tenfold with an emotional experimentation with genre that’s progressive in a whole new way. By picking apart the literary gothic as well as the musical to craft an ode that uplifts voices too long unheard – something Beverly says they have always looked to do, eschewing tropes and clichés and placing those forlorn, doom-laden melodies and songwriting at the forefront – OCEANS OF SLUMBER have finally realised and revealed, both to themselves and to the world, who they are. They are the new Southern gothic, and you need to pay attention.
Starlight And Ash is set for release on July 22nd via Century Media Records.
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