There aren’t very many good things you can say about the quarantine era we’re in, which pretty much goes without saying. In fact, one silver lining we can talk about is the country and the world have been able to pay more attention to injustices that have been plaguing the United States since so many have the time and fewer distractions.
That, of course, still means that many are hurting, and the fact that people of color in this country remain targets of the police, keep getting killed, continually are criticized for how they protest has reached a boil-over point. Progressive metal juggernaut Oceans of Slumber have their attention squarely on these issues on their excellent fourth record, a self-titled affair, and the fact they have singer Cammie Gilbert fronting the band hammers home these issues more. Gilbert says she took her position as a Black woman living in the south as well as what she sees people of color going through all over again and applied all of this to her words and stunning performance. Racism is a major topic of this 12-track, 77-minute beast, but there also are themes of loss and emotional turmoil that she and the band—guitarists/backing vocalists Jessie Santos and Alexander Lucian, bassist/guitarist Semir Ozerkan, drummer/piano player Dobber Beverly, synth player Mat Aleman—tackle. But it’s not all total darkness as hope and an injection of strength are woven deeply into this album.
“Soundtrack to My Last Day” is the 7:35 opener, and it immediately sets the stage for the entire record, blasting fully on fire, with Gilbert’s incredible voice leading the way. “I’m so far away, I’m so far from home,” she calls, as acoustics wash into the scene, and elegant darkness spreads before growls crush the mood. The journey remains incredibly compelling as the singing pours in, and the track has a calming end. “Pray for Fire” starts calmly in lush waters, leading in with acoustics as Gilbert levels, “Dying alone, and my roots are buried deep.” Synth washes in as the track opens harder, with Gilbert commanding, “No room for peaceful resolution,” while the soloing rips apart, and we’re trading off between crushing hell and angelic haze before the track comes to a vengeful end. “A Return to the Earth Below” is a tremendous cut with Gilbert’s soulful voice leading the way and a great chorus, where she sings, “When darkness gathers, we are falling.” Whirry synth settles in as the track bursts again, and the vocals soar as the song bows out. “Imperfect Divinity” is a quick instrumental cut with swelling organs and guitars swimming through dark waters toward “The Adorned Fathomless Creation” that starts with what sounds like backward growls. The insanity mixes with Gilbert’s singing, moving toward bruising as an emotional dark cloud crawls menacingly, while Gilbert calls, “They’re coming for you now … coming to collect what you’ve taken.” Guitars surge as doomy waters collect, and everything comes to a muddy end. “To the Sea” begins with bells chiming and synth chewing, as the deluge of emotion digs into your heart, with Gilbert demanding, “Say no more, let me go into the sea,” as the track rushes closed.
“The Colors of Grace” is a powerful ballad where Gilbert is joined by Mike Moss from Antimatter, as they trade lines amid a rising tide. “You saved me from myself,” Gilbert declares from deep within her, as the song keeps sweeping and collecting followers along the way, as the strive to be OK and just find some balance make their waves. “I Mourn These Yellow Leaves” starts with a synth gush as Gilbert’s vocals soar again, simmering in slow, collecting waters before the walls come down. Ugliness tears through as growls pound away, the drums are smashed, and the song heads back into full force. “Into the flames to be consumed,” Gilbert commands as the track sifts into a strange fog, moody guitars cut the tension, and the track comes to a heart-wrenching end. “September (Those Who Come Before)” is an instrumental with sifting keys and the melodies overwhelming, feeling like the perfect musical segue into “Total Failure Apparatus” that boils in synth strings before the bottom drops out hard. There is tidal-waving singing and blistering growls as Gilbert calls, “I know the road is treacherous … but it’s the only road I know,” acknowledging the danger ahead but knowing the rough terrain must be confronted. Creaky growls work through, which is honestly kind of too strange, but the song recovers and has a rousing finish. “The Red Flower” greets with striking synth and dramatic playing rolling in, as somber piano notes drip, and the heart quivers. “Unwanted seedlings, the soil takes your sins,” Gilbert bursts with reassuring, open arms as the blood surges, and the track ends pushes back into the ground. The final cut is a cover of Type O Negative’s “Wolf Moon” which they smartly given their own touch and they don’t try to do a faithful reading, which makes this even better. It’s both progressively alluring and gothy just enough to pay homage but also give their own DNA so it can have a boost of new life.
It goes without saying we live in times that are unkind to so many people, where justice only serves a select few, and where people are starting to wake up to what’s going on and refusing to accept these terms. Not that Oceans of Slumber are exclusively going at that on this record, but the strife and struggle is there, and the way they battle through musically, and especially with Gilbert’s vocals, should help be a beam of light to those in the midst of the fight. We need more records and bands like this in heavy music that can acknowledge the pain but also light a path toward righteousness.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/oceansofslumber/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.centurymedia.com/