Album Review: Oceans of Slumber – ‘Winter’

Album Review: Oceans of Slumber – ‘Winter’

Oceans of Slumber
Winter
(Century Media)

Having been first introduced to the experimental Texan metal act back in 2013, this Century Media debut is by and large different than I could have ever imagined. The band’s self-released record was an extremely heavy record filled with elements of black, death, progressive, core, thrash and everything in between; but Winter sees a complete restructuring of the entire process. Gone is the band’s longtime frontman Ronnie Gates as the unexpected female vocal approach of Cammie Gilbert works as a new and interesting replacement. From the hard-edged debut, the act have now become a second coming of The Gathering, reminding me much of Mandylion and How To Measure A Planet through their mix of highly accented progressive atmospheres and ultimately passionate female vocals. Gilbert sings with just the kind of passion that could set a whole room on fire and backed with what at times can literally go into moments of post, black or death metal, we’ve got an act like none other in the mainstream heavy metal circuit.

The record itself contains about nine full-length tracks amidst several interludes, all seeming to flow together in a fashion that works as one whole piece and seems to tell a story of love lost. There’s something about this record that marks a sound that we just haven’t heard before and that’s what the title track and opener (for which a video also exists) describes quite clearly in it’s nearly eight minute playing time. The listener at first might not expect such a track to begin to gain thunder as it roars into a full on storm, but guitarists Sean Gary and Anthony Contreras still have the same amount of metallic might that they unleashed on the debut (which Century Media will soon need to reissue) as drummer Dobber Beverly tears the kit up completely, even going into a full-on blast during the track. Yes, you heard me right. There are actually several blasts featured on such a record, making for what might come off as an extreme oddity in the world of heavy metal. There are very few records in which a female vocal approach backs such a powerful explosion of drumming, and most of those records wind up with the clean vocal end completely crushed and overpowered by the kit. I’ve heard it done once on an older Battlelore record, to which the frontwoman was nearly drowned out completely. But it makes perfect sense, especially when you’ve performed with a band before and have witnessed just how loud a blasting drum kit can be in real life.

Yet Winter also dips into territory more common for Steven Wilson and Pink Floyd, and it is here where Gilbert shows her commercial viability. Clearly this is the kind of woman who could sing anything. I’m surprised that she never tried out for competitions like The Voice, X-Factor or the soon to be defunct American Idol. I’m almost certain such a vocal would have been picked, hence I am glad that she decided to take a more metallic approach with her talent and give us some real music, rather than the pop tunes of today which are complete fodder. Songs like “Night In White Satin” definitely showcase that immense vocal power from a woman that like Anneke, can sing the phone book if she wanted to. So I clearly see these guys following in the footsteps of a long-honored Century Media act like The Gathering who paved the way for heavy female-fronted progressive metal. Oceans Of Slumber literally are the evolution of The Gathering, a new child birthed from both extreme and lighter progressive nodes that will certainly serve as this generation’s next big progressive act, dare I say franchise.

Ladies and gentlemen, we might very well be looking at the next Dream Theater here and I will not mince words with that statement. As of recent, more female-fronted acts have been taking the main stage in heavy metal and rock music, so it seems natural that the biggest and the best would step up to the plate of commercial status. As such there are some tracks on the disc that might not be as punishingly pretty as the title cut, “Devout” or “Night In White Satin” as even some blues and flamenco appear on the full version of “Turpentine.” But shadows of what the band previously used to sound like do appear quite heavily on “Apopologue” which is arguably the heaviest track on the album. That being said, these guys are more interested in what progressive metal really showcases, and that is class and beauty. Quite like Dream Theater’s The Astonishing (which I thought was a bit boring) these guys have taken a more traditional approach to the progressive genre (which I definitely liked more than The Astonishing) and have managed to kick it up a notch, giving fans of a more extreme taste something to enjoy as well.

You may not believe me when I say that sections of this record will literally tear your head off, but I don’t feel that I’m worth my salt if I make this career in writing based on lies. (I’ll save my fiction for novels.) Once again, you literally have no idea as to how astonishingly heavy “Apopologue” gets and how much this band is still capable of pounding sledgehammers of death, grind and gore into our unsuspecting skulls. Still, I feel that there could be more moments like this on the record and it’s going to be a tough sell for those expecting a more extreme performance. But I will take it for what it is. It is an experiment, which takes a lot of effort, trial and error to perfect. Do I feel that it is their Mandylion? Not quite yet. I have to be honest and say that I feel what I’ve heard here is an outstanding mix of perfect chemistry and undoubtable talent and skill, yet there is still more that can be done and will be done in the future. Go bigger, is what I’m really saying here. Show me more. This is great, but I still feel there is more to be had and I’m going to wait patiently until the formula is even further refined. As much as I really like this record, I still feel that they’ve got the potential to blow the roof off with an even grander performance in the years to come. Paradise Lost released a memorable death metal record in their debut, but when Gothic later released, their name was on the lips of nearly every metal listener at the time. Gothic itself is still one of the best heavy metal albums ever made. I definitely see that happening here.

There are many bands on the Century Media label that I am not quite fond of, yet several that I feel belong on one of the major labels that introduced me to so many class acts in the past like Nevermore and Paradise Lost. Whoever saw to signing these guys was clearly on that side of the board, thinking more along the lines of “What could be a really powerful metal act that turns heads and makes the same waves that we did back in the old days?” rather than “What could be a really good trend to cash in on in order to make a lot of money?” Keep in mind, the label did sign it’s share of experimental metal projects here and there and they still happen to have some really great artists from time to time, like you’ll see with these guys. I’m not telling you to accept Oceans Of Slumber as the new trend, the new hip thing that all the kids are into. Winter is not a part of some musical trend. It’s much more than that and you’ll have to experience it yourself to understand exactly what I mean here.

I want you to pick up this record, give it a thorough listen and see what you think of it. This is the kind of class that we need in the metal scene right now and it’s what the kids REALLY need to hear. Maybe it is a bit more mature in topic and content than what you’ll hear from the usual scene-dwellers, but once again, Oceans Of Slumber are the monkey wrench in the gears that people need to hear to really believe. Winter is a little bit like a journey and very much in the style of Mandylion, though I will reiterate – it’s not there yet. Not now, but soon… and definitely, definitely worth picking up. Not just one, but two or even three copies. Love it or hate it, this kind of record is a sort of landmark for the genre. Oceans Of Slumber is a musical evolution that has only begun right here with Winter. Where it goes from that point, well… sky’s the limit. (The Grim Lord)

Purchase Winter here.

4-stars

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