Oceans Of Slumber – Starlight And Ash
Century Media Records
Release Date: 22/07/22
Running Time: 48:28
Review by Dark Juan
Hello, my fiends. It is I, Dark Juan, and I am discovering the delights of Aldi’s Dr. Pepper analogue. It is called Professor Peppy and for some reason this has amused the fuck out of me and I giggle every time I look at the bottle. I am a man of simple pleasures and even simpler humour. In fact, Mrs Dark Juan would claim (with some justification) that I am just simple. She’s probably right.
As this rock spins around the sun, covered in a load of humans who account for only the most infinitesimal percentage of the mass of the universe, yet who consider themselves so important that the universe should bend over and reveal its secrets to us, I find myself ruminating on the nature of humanity. A race capable of squandering so much potential by allowing themselves to be governed by the people who are most unsuited to power – those being the ones who clamour to wield it. Why do we trust our lives to psychopaths and hypocrites? Why do we, the people, not rise up against these oppressors and forge a different path for ourselves? I, Dark Juan, did not consent to be governed by anyone. Indeed, I’d be much more comfortable if I were governing myself. My mate Tony and I will have the UK sorted out in five minutes flat, when we tear down the system and build a new one based on Yorkshire common sense and not on rich folk protecting their own. Come the revolution you’ll find me leading from the front. Something has to change.
Flat caps will be compulsory on a Sunday.
Speaking of revolution, I am listening to Houston, Texas based Oceans Of Slumber. If you are a long time studier of my peculiar compositions, you’ll no doubt recall that I reviewed “The Banished Heart”, being the last long playing release by the band I have heard, way back when in 2018, and properly raved about it, the sheer intelligence of the music and the absolute ASSET that the voice of Cammie Beverly is. Her soulful delivery runs the full gauntlet from softly charming and seductive to venom-spitting fury and she was a part of a modern progressive metal masterpiece at that time. Shall we see if Oceans Of Slumber have another one on their hands?
First of all, I note with trepidation that the blurb states that “Starlight And Ash” marks a new sound for the band (“You are all witnesses to the birth of Spinal Tap Mark II. Hope you enjoy our new direction…”) with a decided pivot towards Southern Gothic music. Now, I don’t know whether you metalheads have actually heard any Southern Gothic music, but it is best described as country music written by even more depressed musicians than normal practitioners of country. They are more at risk of mental health difficulties than blues musicians and Amy Winehouse combined. It is slow and gloomy and all about peoples’ dead dogs, lovers, the Appalachian Mountains and how beautiful they are even though Emmie-Lou fell off one of them and her head exploded like an overripe melon, but by god the scarlet on the white was gorgeous to behold. Basically it sounds like Willie Nelson discovered depressive black metal and the Sisters Of Mercy at the same time and then stuck a wailing violin and a twangy bastard banjo over the top of it and dug up the corpse of Rover to weep over whilst drinking whiskey and rye.
I’m not sure I like it. All the right ingredients are there – lush songwriting, a crystal clear production that renders everything more glacial and pure than an Antarctic winter, staggering musicianship and the emotional and ardent singing, but I can’t help it. It feels somehow contrived. ‘Just A Day’ amply demonstrates this – an absolutely jaw-dropping song, but one much superior to much of the album because it is more concentrated on being heavy than clever. And the cover of The Animals’ seminal ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ is fucking awful. If Cammie had sung an acapella version, it would have been goosebump-inducingly wonderful, but slinging a mournful cello over finger-picked acoustic guitar and possibly the most disinterested-sounding keyboardist ever does not constitute an acceptable version of a bona fide classic.
I think I have identified the problem. I think this album has been too long in the making. It’s been overthought and overwrought. The band are trying too hard. There are flashing moments of brilliance, but it is not a very cohesive thing. ‘The Shipbuilder’s Son’ is a perfect case in point – satisfyingly chuggy guitars give way to mournful, affecting quiet passages and then to soaring, slow crunching, but there’s too much stopping and starting and too much reliance on Cammie Beverly’s undeniable vocal supremacy to carry the composition through, and this is a recurring problem throughout the album. It’s too self-indulgent. And it’s not because I don’t understand progressive music either. I have a 14-cd box set of Van Der Graaf fucking Generator on my review list…
It’s a crying shame because the opening track, ‘The Waters Rising’ is simply brilliant, effortlessly melding Cammie’s warm, intimate delivery with an electronically enhanced drumbeat and soulful backing vocals, and an interesting lyric, and a slowly building sense of purpose, especially when the band hit the gas and crash into the heavy fucking metal, however briefly.
Wow. I’m so disappointed I want to go and kill someone’s beloved pet or child in a bizarrely misplaced act of vengeance because I wanted to love this record so much, and I just don’t. It is slow and maudlin and not what I remember Oceans Of Slumber to be. When they start playing metal, it is absolutely staggering in its intelligence and complexity, but the metal moments are too few and far between and there’s too much focus on noodling – ‘Hearts Of Stone’ is a brilliant metal song but it is followed by ‘The Lighthouse’ which is not a good metal song. It is not a metal song at all. The styles the band are trying to merge are too divergent. I intensely dislike the little slide guitar lick on it, but as Cammie sings her heart out, she’s capable enough to turn the ugliest sow’s ear into a glorious silk purse and she lifts it beyond poor, to acceptable.
In conclusion, then. A record that tries too hard to meld music made by depressed shotgun owners who would massacre their way around surrounding farms if they didn’t have instruments, with heavy metal. It doesn’t really gel and the Southern Gothic elements jar uncomfortably against the heavier stuff. When it’s good it is simply sublime but there are not enough great moments on the record. The main saving grace is the singing of Cammie Beverly, which is always exemplary. Southern Gothic music should be of an earthy, home grown quality that speaks of isolation and pain, yet this album suffers from having too clean a production that robs the songs of any emotion or pathos.
The Patented Dark Juan Blood Splat Rating System is astounded that it has actually reached the dizzying heights of competence in review writing for several minutes now, but remains disappointed in Oceans Of Slumber and awards them 6/10 for a real bum note in their otherwise enviable canon.
01. The Waters Rising
02. Hearts Of Stone
03. The Lighthouse
04. Red Forest Roads
05. The Hanging Tree
07. Star Altar
08. The Spring of 21
09. Just A Day
10. House Of The Rising Sun
11. The Shipbuilder’s Son
Dobber Beverly – Drums, piano
Cammie Beverly – Lead vocals
Mat V. Aleman – Keyboards
Semir Ozerkan – Bass, backing vocals
Jessie Santos – Guitars
Alexander Lucian – Guitars, backing vocals
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