Review of “Starlight and Ash” by Oceans of Slumber

Ryan Murray | Co-Owner | Chief Editor | Contributor

Oceans of Slumber is a genre-defying progressive metal band from Houston Texas, is poised to release their latest effort “Starlight and Ash” on Friday July 22nd. A giant leap into the unknown, “Starlight and Ash” blends the raw and emotional vocals of Cammie Beverly with an almost dark southern goth feel to create some of the best music that’s been heard in a long time! Leaving the rather extreme metal notes behind, Oceans of Slumber very effectively steps into their new identity, that while is still distinctly Oceans, sees the band embracing something fresh and new!

The first singles released, “The Waters Rising”“Hearts of Stone”“The Lighthouse” and the dark and eerie cover of “House of the Rising Sun” offer a glimpse into what to expect from the new album. This new direction the band has taken was completely unexpected yet is filled with boldness and beauty. The band has never sounded fuller, more mature or more confident than they do now, and I think this new sound is only the beginning for them! Cammie, Dobber, Alexander, Jessie, Matthew and Semir have completely poured everything they are, completely emptying themselves into this record, and it shows!

“The Waters Rising”, which is also the opening track of the album, finds the band’s landing place after a period of inner searching to find their true identity.  “It’s a point of clarity” says the band. This haunting track reveals a more soulful, yet gothic-like feel. Cammie’s vocals are powerful and filled with an eerie longing that draws the listener in for more. As this track progresses, so does the intensity. As Cammie’s vocals become more and more intense, the band follows suit with a more familiar sound that is very well recognized, yet never goes to the extreme that is expected of them. This isn’t a negative thing, either! This track, as well as the entire album is beautifully crafted with feelings and emotions the listener won’t soon forget.

“Hearts of Stone, the second single, is a bit heavier at times, but still very raw, and sees a vulnerability that is all too often missing in some more modern music. Cammie says of this track “Lost and alone from birth, a product of the institution of life on the streets. Trouble follows this person around like a badge of honor. Grief finding grievances, the perfect formula of despair.” This track hits home for me and things I went through in my youth with lines like “You’re just a stranger with vacant eyes and a hollow chest. Going around leaving what you found in a bigger mess” Dobber’s fills throughout this song are so deeply in the pocket and are sickly tight and effortless. The guitars, both the light and airy patterns throughout the verses as well as the more chuggy riffs throughout the choruses are just perfect.

“The Light House”, which happens to also be the third single released, starts off with southern, kind of bluesy guitars. Beautiful, very subtle strings weave their way in and out of this soulful, yet gloom filled track. Cammie’s vocals, even in a more laid-back track in the sonic sense, are perfection. The emotion and power are impossible to miss. A short, but really effective guitar solo is beautifully played, leading way to an even bigger vocal crescendo. 

“Red Forest Roads” may seem like a laid back filler, but it’s so much more than that! What starts out with eerie guitars giving way to an up-tempo 12/8 feel, this track expertly and cleverly blends the bombastic sound Oceans of Slumber are known for, along with the sound and style the band has now settled into with this new release! Just when you think this track is going to take the soft route, staying aligned with their new sound, Dobber’s pulse pounding drums and insanely tight and in-the-pocket blast beats come roaring in with a vocal crescendo not soon to be forgotten. With lyrics like “The silence spans a thousand miles filling the space between us. Right now you only exist in my mind.” this track is a poignant reminder that silence can cause a great divide.

Tracks like “The Hanging Tree” and “Salvation” give way to a more much needed discussion on morality. “The Hanging Tree”, clearly the most experimental track on the album, sees a softer tone all throughout. A much more laid-back vocal floats effortlessly over eerie synth patches, acoustic yet distorted like guitars, all with beautiful strings woven throughout. This song may be soft, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. This track’s power is in the emotion that is being poured out throughout the entire 4:04 time that this track offers. This is definitely a memorable track and is a hidden gem on this album. While “Salvation” pays homage to a sound similar to that of Type O Negative, this well-crafted track shows the versatility that this band is showing more and more of as the years go on.

“Star Altar” is more of a doom metal track, with slow, dirge like guitars in a slow 6/8 pattern, giving way to Dobber’s in-the-pocket and tight drums, back in a standard 4/4. Cammie’s vocals weave her way through this doom filled track, mesmerizing the listener with not only her power, but also her gentleness and sultry lower range at times during the verses.

“The Spring of 21”, a beautiful instrumental track clocking in at 3:21 may seem superfluous, but it’s crafted expertly as a beautiful intro that flows seamlessly into “Just a Day”, which starts out as a beautiful, stripped back piano ballad, reminiscent of Evanescence’s “Hello”. With Cammie’s flawless vocals being the only other sound that is heard floating beautifully above the keys, it seems this track is destined to finish out as it starts, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With dirge like synth and guitars, a very ominous and dirge-like doom metal comes rushing in just before the two-minute mark, with lamenting and beautiful strings weaving their way throughout this slow, yet eerily beautiful dirge. Don’t get settled in though, because just before the track closes out there is one more tempo change to a more pulse pounding groove with drums and heavier guitar, more reminiscent of the sound we’ve become familiar with from Oceans.

In comes the fourth single of this new release, which is a well-known British rock tune called “House of the Rising Sun”. Oceans of Slumber was able to do with this song what few can do – made it completely their own, akin to bands such as Evanescence who are also known for taking a song and completely making it their own. I’ve never personally been a huge fan of the original, but this southern goth-styled song that Oceans has created sounds absolutely fantastic! Guest instrumentalist, Carla Kihlstedt, expertly takes a violin solo as the second verse, and lays out an enchantingly beautiful string accompaniment all throughout this track.  

As our journey comes to an end, the closing track “The Shipbuilders Son” truly sums up this fantastic piece of art that is “Starlight and Ash”! The atmosphere that is set throughout this track is a perfect fit for an album closer. Cammie’s vocals shine brightly throughout this track, yet again displaying her vocal versatility. The synth atmosphere that carries Cammie all the way through to the end is driven by doom like guitars, sometimes even chugging their way through.

Oceans of Slumber truly have dug down deep with this latest work. The heart, emotion and vulnerability that was poured into this latest album is palpable. This album is a huge leap from where Oceans of Slumber has been in the past. It is their most mature sound to date, and while it may take the extreme metal fans some time to adjust to this new path, it’s not hard to see this album really taking the band to a whole new level, having substantially raised the bar and have blurred the lines within their genre. With this latest work, Cammie has set herself up as one of the most powerful and versatile singers, up with names such as Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, Amy Lee of Evanescence, Tarja of Tarja (ex-Nightwish) and Floor Jansen of Nightwish, maybe not in style, but most certainly in power and versatility.

“Starlight and Ash” releases Friday, July 22nd via Century Media.

Verdict: 5/5

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