Oceans of Slumber could scare you. Or their honesty could. Over the course of their career, the Texas-based sextet have produced one EP and four studio albums, each documenting self-loathing, self-worth, and self-punishment, all in the pursuit of self-soothing. The band’s fifth album, ‘Starlight and Ash’, due for release on July 22, is an eloquent extension of an already illustrious catalogue. One that has kept these Southern rockers dominating much of the progressive metal scene since 2018’s ‘The Banished Heart’. A position their upcoming instalment will cement further.
Having kept busy in the lead-up to its release, offering up a striking cast of singles along the way, Oceans of Slumber do more than preach to the converted. While each single has retained much of the same sonic characteristics fans have come to expect – “Heart of Stone” capturing a gothic huskiness, “The Lighthouse” oozing southern drawl, “The Waters Rising” flexing melancholy sentiments above electronic undertones – there is a noticeable departure here also. Indeed, each of the eleven tracks on ‘Starlight and Ash’, make it, arguably, the most accessible Oceans of Slumber instalment yet. Most songs never surpass the five-minute mark and are less circuitous structurally than previous releases. Perhaps the first taste of what’s to come. Certainly, a whole new gateway for new fans to discover Oceans of Slumber.
The instrumentation on ‘Starlight and Ash’ has an omniscient presence, like a third-person narrator, built masterfully, and purposely, around vocalist Cammie Beverly, heard best on tracks like the mesmeric “Salvation.” Reminding us how confronting darkness has always been the wheelhouse in which Oceans of Slumber operate. And yet, hope feels musically intertwined throughout. Lyrically, tracks like “Just A Day” are delivered through an almost Nick Cave, Tom Waits form of blunt storytelling that aims to extract beauty from the dark as opposed to coddling a given emotion. Even solo piano composition “The Spring of 21” is executed with tenderness and sensitivity where austerity once lived. If re-popularising songs from yesteryear have been a trait of the bands since their humble beginnings, this time it comes in the form of “House of the Rising Sun” featuring Carla Kihlstedt. The haunting re-imagining holds its own next to the album’s originals.
With many contemporary artists finding comfort in nostalgia as if still suffering from the trauma of organised sports, Oceans of Slumber take a different approach. Producing an album that might shake the gatekeepers of progressive metal to their core once more. For, ‘Starlight and Ash’ may very well be the nearest thing to a mainstream hit anyone will be able to accuse them of.