Album Review: OCEANS OF SLUMBER Winter
The beauty of progressive metal is that it isn't confined to any one particular style or sonic disposition. Whereas a metal band that's labelled as thrash, death or black gives the listener an idea of what they're in for, prog is a bit more of mystery, acting as a Pandora's Box of sorts for would-be listeners and allowing for total artistic freedom from the musicians therein without any sort of stylistic constraints. The challenge for the prog band lies within their songcraft; mixing and melding many genres of music into one cohesive package is not an easy task, as evidenced by the many bands who label themselves as prog but seem to mindlessly combine different styles of music in hopes of it sounding good, as if they were one of those painters who randomly splotches paint on a canvas and calls it "art." That said, when it does work, it can make for some of the most interesting and compelling music available: artists such as Opeth, Devin Townsend, and Porcupine Tree have proved themselves as masters of this delicate craft time and time again, and as a result, their music is impossible to not revisit on a regular basis.
Enter prog metal powerhouse Oceans of Slumber. A relatively young band, this Houston-based sextet gets it. Consisting of guitarists Anthony Contreras and Sean Gary, bassist Keegan Kelly, synth player Uaeb Yelsaeb, drummer Dobber Beverly and vocalist Cammie Gilbert, Oceans of Slumber is a band that truly understands the essence of progressive music and the songcraft required to make a great album. The band's independently-released debut album Aetherial was a masterpiece in and of itself, and they've further expanded upon that release and taken even bolder strides forward with their sophomore album and Century Media debut, Winter.
As alluded to, much of the magic of Winter lies within its songcraft; that, and Gilbert's angelic, haunting and powerful voice. Last year's Blue EP marked the debut of Gilbert, who replaced male vocalist Ronnie Allen. Allen performed on Aetherial, and though he was a great talent, Gilbert really gives Oceans of Slumber more of its own sonic identity and separates them from the prog metal pack. The opening notes of album opener "Winter" is proof enough of this. The song begins with a darkly somber melody carried by Gilbert's stunning croon before it becomes a shapeshifter of a song that touches on everything from doom to death. The best part about it is that the sonic territory Oceans of Slumber traverses feels entirely natural; each section flows seamlessly into the next, and it never feels like influences are being meshed together just for the sake of doing so.
The front half of Winter is more straight-forward and accessible than the back half. "Devout" ventures into proggier territory and showcases the many dynamics Oceans of Slumber are able to cram into a single song. The only real misstep on the album comes with its third track, an Oceans of Slumber rendition of The Moody Blues' "Night in White Satin." The band proved their uncanny ability to take a classic song an re-craft it into something all their own with last year's Blue, and while their version of "Night in White Satin" is certainly interesting, it feels oddly out of place within the context of Winter. It would have been better utilized as a bonus track or even on Blue. It's a minor misstep on the band's part, but on that's hard to overlook. It's also hard to overlook the various instrumental interludes they place through the album. Interesting as they are, they seem more like filler than anything else. Thankfully, they redeem themselves in the strength of the last few songs.
"Turpentine" is a bluesy romp in which Gilbert and the rest of the band really shine, but the real highlight of the album comes in the form of "Apropologue." If one needed any more convincing that these guys (and gal) know how to write a prog metal song, this is it. Across its six minutes and 55 seconds,"Apropogogue" treks into the vast realms of extreme metal, touching on doom, goth, death and black in its journey and intertwining each of them to great avail. It's easily the heaviest track on the album, and really hints at what they might be capable of in the future.
Winter is destined to be one of the best albums 2016. The songs are memorable, the musicianship is incredible, and it's an interesting and compelling listen all the way through. It has all the makings of a prog metal masterpiece and will hopefully land Oceans of Slumber some big tours alongside the peers they're so proudly influenced by. Sure, it stumbles a bit here and there, but not at its own peril. Oceans of Slumber is the real deal when it comes to prog. Don't sleep on Winter.