Oceans of Slumber’s third full-length album has all the makings of a disjointed mess. The Texas group’s prog by way of gothic metal style is seemingly out to incorporate every quirk it can get its hands on, as doom riffs are married to soulful vocals, periodic blast beats, and ambient keyboard flourishes. The songwriting also feels like two albums smashed together as the first half boasts off-the-cuff structures and more aggressive instrumentation while the second half is much slower paced and based more on subdued atmospherics.
Fortunately strong musicianship and full production keep The Banished Heart from slipping, especially during the first half. While the structures do seem random on the surface, they are clearly written with purpose and longer songs like “The Decay of Disregard” can feel downright breezy thanks to their proper transitions. The guitars make a steady foundation, the keyboards are placed with the right amount of subtlety, and Cammie Gilbert’s clean vocals serve as an emotional unifier.
That emotion is what truly makes The Banished Heart worth noting. Gilbert’s cleans are full of soul and pathos as even the lines on more intense tracks like “The Decay of Disregard” and the title track can catch you off guard if you’re not careful. But the second half is where the album tears your heart out, with “No Color, No Light” particularly standing out for the stirring duet with Evergrey vocalist Tom Englund. The band members have said that the album was inspired by deep personal tragedy and you can feel every inch of it.
Of course, the album isn’t quite perfect. The hour-plus runtime can get a little overwhelming, especially when the first half is easily outdone by the second despite its more technical approach. In addition, it is comical to hear doomed out segments be paired with arrays of blast beats and the harsh vocals can feel hokey at times. Their inclusion makes sense when you consider the band’s more extreme roots, but at this point, I can’t help but feel that their evolution has deemed them largely unnecessary.
Oceans of Slumber’s third album is an acquired taste to put it lightly. The group’s kitchen sink approach to gothic prog does take some getting used to, and the emotions involved make the climb even more intense. It’s a very demanding album but ultimately rewarding, if only due to it featuring one of the best vocalists in modern metal. Anybody looking for a good meeting point between Paradise Lost and Pain of Salvation are advised to give this a listen.
“The Decay of Disregard”
“The Banished Heart”
“A Path to Broken Stars”
“Howl of the Rougarou”
“No Color, No Light”