It seems pretty likely that we will all remember 2020 as one of the most unrelentingly shitty years we have ever experienced. But while we bemoan the incompetence of our leaders and the idiocy of our sunbathers, new and glorious music continues to light the way forward. Oceans Of Slumber have already done plenty to convince fans of progressive and melodic heaviness, particularly since the arrival of vocalist Cammie Gilbert and the band’s subsequent creative blossoming. With Gilbert’s charismatic presence and rich, soulful voice leading the charge, both 2016’s Winter and 2018’s The Banished Heart had significant impact, at least among discerning metalheads, and established the Texans as one of the most distinctive bands to salute the darkness in many crescent moons.
No one could have predicted that Oceans Of Slumber’s fourth album would be released into such a fucked-up world, but that’s showbusiness. The thrilling truth about this understandably self-titled and therefore newly definitive album is that it is almost excruciatingly perfect for these troubled times, as Gilbert delves into the darkest of emotions, deftly blurring the lines between society’s enduring and persistent ills and the raw intimacies of the deeply personal. Her voice has grown in strength, power and emotional articulacy over the years, and while these songs never stray far from poetic metaphor, a heightened sense of righteous fury at the state of humanity circa 2020 is impossible to miss.
It certainly helps that these are the finest songs Oceans Of Slumber have crafted so far. Soundtrack To My Last Day is a bold starting point that morphs from tense fever dream to pummelling, abyssal dirge and back again, Gilbert’s melodies providing the song’s vulnerable, human core, as pitch-black, double-kick storm clouds gather. First single, A Return To The Earth Below, is equally dazzling; blissful, bittersweet vocal hooks drift and flicker through billowing clouds of glacial doom, before an unsettling avant-garde interlude gives way to a devastating emotional crescendo. Mischievously starting with some backwards death metal à la Morbid Angel’s Immortal Rites, The Adorned Fathomless Creation is the most obvious centrepiece on an album full of wildly dramatic and unforgettable moments. Seven minutes of immaculate bombast, replete with eviscerating blastbeats and indulgent, spiralling guitar solos (and, at the 5:30 mark, one of the best death metal riffs you’ll hear this year), it’s a head-spinning show of force. In somewhat wild contrast, To The Sea is a simply astonishing blues-metal ballad with rasping analogue synths and a vocal from Gilbert so vital and yet vulnerable that it could well make your eyes leak. It’s probably hayfever, don’t worry.
There are more wonders to be unearthed here, too. In particular, the graceful but grim I Mourn These Yellowed Leaves is a strong contender for the finest song Oceans Of Slumber have written to date. Similarly, the concluding cover of Type O Negative’s Wolf Moon is a shrewd and sincere masterstroke. But the most important thing to know about Oceans Of Slumber is that it’s an utterly unique and eerily timely creative triumph from one of the few bands in our world that really, really matter right now.