Music for the mentalist metalheads, Oceans of Slumber come in hot and under the radar with their latest, 5-star album “Starlight and Ash”.
In my ongoing attempt to bring lesser-known artists into the spotlight, this review will focus on a band that isn’t yet a household name. And, since our editor is practically their geographical neighbor, I wanted to give the hometown underdogs a shot!
Oceans of Slumber is a six-piece musical act hailing from Houston, TX. Formed in 2011, they have released five albums and one EP. Though they are ostensibly billed as a progressive metal band, I feel that is a rather restrictive moniker — one that introduces a bias right from the jump.
Yes, they have heavy moments and are certainly less bound to a rigid “pop” formula, but they are most assuredly NOT just metal. There are also elements of blues, funk, symphonic, classic rock, sludge, and groove to be found as well.
In fact, with their latest release, I struggle to even call them metal at this point.
They’re really more of a hard rock band; more Coheed and Cambria than Metallica. This isn’t a complaint so much as an observation, just so you guys know what you’re getting yourselves into.
An unexpected gem of a release, Oceans of Slumber’s 2022 release Starlight and Ash kind of crept up on me out of the shadows.
While I’ve been aware of their music for a while, and have always had mad respect for vocalist Cammie Beverly’s inimitable range, none of their songs really “hooked” me as I wanted them to.
But all of that changed with Starlight and Ash.
Their latest album is solid all the way through, the kind of assured offering that is rare these days. Plenty of bands can create an earworm or two…but crafting an LP that is consistent and powerful all the way through? Priceless. And that self-assuredness is one of Starlight and Ash‘s greatest strengths.
The band knew exactly what kind of album they wanted to make, and they bent themselves to the task like the seasoned professionals they are.
Clocking in at just under fifty minutes and featuring 11 tracks (one of which is a short instrumental), Starlight and Ash is quickly becoming my go-to album whenever I’m in a contemplative mood.
Existing somewhere in the vast space between powerful and pensive, this is metal for moments of deep thought and wistful nostalgia. In fact, I found it to be the perfect accompaniment to having a few fingers of Crown Royal and a cigar on the patio.
Musically, Oceans of Slumber eschews the usual progressive trappings of excess, focusing more on simple arrangements that are layered and ever-evolving.
Nobody is showing off or going on ten-minute tangents with their instruments. I would say that the word restraint best describes their approach.
The only place where that does NOT hold true is with the vocals.
Lead singer Cammie Gilbert can sing like nobody’s business, effortlessly shifting from soulful crooning to angry shouts. She honestly sounds like she could have been one of Pink Floyd’s backup singers…and as a Floyd superfan who is VERY picky about his featured vocalists, that is no faint praise.
If you don’t like a vocalist who sings AND vocalizes her ass off…then Oceans of Slumber won’t rumble your rocket.
But if you like your singing like I like my whiskey (strong and unfiltered), then check out the following tracks:
The Waters Rising – Piano, synthesizer, a propulsive beat, strong lyrics, and mournful vocals? Yes, please! The album opener is also the best track on offer, a plodding juggernaut, catchy and emotional in all the right ways. It’s certainly not a heavy track by any means, but there are moments when it ramps up the BPMs for a bit. The occasional backing vocals just add that extra oomph.
The Lighthouse – A bluesy bruiser, the album’s third track is Oceans being completely fearless. You’d be forgiven for not thinking that a metal band could tackle this kind of song. It’s short, and it’s by no means a stadium banger, but it has a dark beauty that is impossible to resist.
Red Forest Roads – Sorrowful and slinky, this tune has Cammie really giving it her all, her voice soaring over both quiet and heavy moments alike. The last half of the song is Oceans at their heaviest, with the expected double-bass drums finally making an appearance.
Star Altar – Arguably the most “metal” song on the album, Star Altar sees Ocean letting their proggy sides loose while still crafting a solid track. It’s not a fast song per se, but there is a grungy feel to it, more like the heavy metal of the 70s. And, once again, Cammie sings her ass off (like she does).
House of the Rising Sun – You can’t have an album these days without a cover song. The original was by no means a barnstormer, but Oceans strips it back even more, with a little acoustic guitar and fiddle thrown in for good measure. A worthy cover, to be sure.
The Shipbuilders Son – Starlight and Ash’s closing song, and my second favorite track from the album, The Shipbuilders Son starts out slow, almost ethereal in its delivery. But it does get heavier as it goes, with power chords giving the song a strong heartbeat. The quiet piano makes a comeback halfway through before the song returns to heavy once again. This song gives me very strong Cellar Darling vibes. And considering how much I love that band, it’s no surprise that The Shipbuilders Son stands out to me.
The only song that doesn’t do anything for me at all is the instrumental track The Spring of 21. I have nothing against instrumental songs in general…but this one just failed to move me in any meaningful way.
In all honesty, not everyone will pick up what Oceans of Slumber are lying down.
They’re not looking to mainline the mainstream and are certainly not interested in selling out. But folks who like their songs a little less poppy and a little more soulful should absolutely give Starlight and Ash a spin. This is one of my favorite releases of 2022.