There is a universality in specificity. By refusing to generalize, by opening up creatively about seemingly unique experiences or environments, we actually allow a level of empathy through the door, inviting others to find the emotion in the beats that are yours but echo and reverberate in similar ways to their own unique experiences. Time and again, whether it’s in film, literature, or music (yes – even metal…just ask Twilight Fauna) the key to forging a connection is not in speaking in generalities, but in exposing our individual conditions and being open to allowing others to find themselves within it. Oceans of Slumber have taken a huge leap with their new album The Banished Heart, and in doing so have opened a painful door that grants us the privilege of finding our own lost ways in their dark and brooding narratives.
Let’s forgo the 2013 debut Aetherial which is actually quite good if slightly innocuous and jump right into 2015’s Blue EP, which not only introduces the singular voice of Cammie Gilbert, but also charts the myriad references that wold rise up again and again in the band’s musical direction. It opens with a cover of Candlemass’s “Solitude” and Gilbert’s delivery is masterful in bringing a wounded yet tough persona to the music. From there it moves to Led Zeppelin to Emperor to Pink Floyd, which pretty much encompasses what you should expect from Oceans of Slumber: pretty much anything.
This “bring it all and make it your own” was exemplified on 2016’s Winter, which cracked my Top 20 of 2016. At the time I compared the band to The Gathering’s Mandylion phase, and time hasn’t diminished that compliment: if anything, repeated listens have only uncovered more promise for what was to come, even if at the time the experiential component was held at arm’s length.
Not so The Banished Heart. Conceived in the aftermath of a painful separation and subsequent discovery of shared pain, the album is heavier and darker than anything on Winter. In fact, opener “The Decay of Disregard” initially felt out of place, its slow, dirge approach working against GIlbert’s most plaintive and heartfelt singing to date. But a closer listen, and one in tandem with the rest of the album, shows a template for loss, love, and ultimately hope, or at least a distant vision to discount the hopelessness. It really comes together in the second track “Fleeting Vigilence” which despite its still dour intent is rife with musical invention and ideas, refusing to lay fallow within a given style.
This refusal to acquiesce to the constraints of a given genre are what gives The Banished Heart and Oceans of Slumber their strength. Whether it’s the thrash attack of “At Dawn” or the quiet dirge of the title track, the band isn’t tethered to a single mood or tonal expression. A lot of this can be ascribed to drummer/songwriter/producer Dobber Beverly, who ensures the music shifts and blends to meet whatever feeling GIlbert wants to explore in her voice or her lyrics. The fact that she and Dobber are back up by some powerful musicians (Keegan Kelly on bass, Anthony Contreras and Sean Gary on guitar) that are able to carry the message in any format. Despite the variety in attack there’s a consistency in intent that ensures nothing – not even the Lynchian ambience of “The Watcher” – are left dangling for support.
In the next few weeks you might read about the specifics that prompted the creation of The Banished Heart and wonder why that would have any relation to your life. Stop, and listen: we are all different, but our differences share a commonality that would surprise you, and in the end all I’m looking for is that connection. Oceans of Slumber gave it to me, and I think it might do the same to you.