Welcome to the It Djents review of The Banished Heart, the latest effort from the Texas-based progressive metal outfit Oceans Of Slumber. Their sound pulls from black metal, doom, classic progressive metal, and their own soaring clean vocals courtesy of standout frontwoman, Cammie Gilbert. Their most recent outing, Winter was one of the best releases of 2016, so it’s with great excitement that staff writers Jake and David share their opinions on The Banished Heart.
One of my absolute favorite records of 2016 was Winter by this talented progressive, doom-leaning, powerhouse of a band called Oceans Of Slumber. Their haunting melodicism and technical but not overpowering instrumentation were an incredibly refreshing combination to me. After around two years of waiting for new songs, we finally have The Banished Heart, out March 2nd through Century Media. In the lead up to the album reveal, the band stated repeatedly on their social media presence that this was a dark and morose record. I initially thought this could be hyperbole to help drum up hype and support for the new songs. However, once I got my hands on this thing, I think it’s safe to say there was no real exaggeration going on. This is true heavy metal.
The opening song is “The Decay of Disregard” and while the title is catchy, the melody isn’t. This isn’t a criticism. It runs just a little over nine minutes and is one of the moodiest on the album: heavy, melancholy, and desperate. I’ll try not to overuse these adjectives, but these themes are pervasive throughout The Banished Heart. The fact that this is the first song in the tracklisting means that it’s basically a harbinger of doom to come. It’s a good way to open the album. However, this track didn’t grab me as much as some of their previous work; it lacked that melodic sensibility that I loved so much about Winter. It’s still a beautiful song, but I found that I loved what comes after a great deal more.
Once I got to the title track, the fourth on the record, my anticipation for the album was paid off in spades. This was the second single released, and it’s another nine-minute song, but one that’s more dynamic in nearly every aspect. Vocalist Cammie Gilbert is on a whole other level. Her range seems to have grown immensely since the last album. From the wispy ethereal to the full-on desperate bellow, this is one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard in a long time. The song’s structure is also more progressive, with transitions, a backing choir, and a lovely piano passage. It’s a real standout.
The riffs just get better and better as the album progresses, and we get more of the harsh vocals mixed in as well. Some of these guitar parts and vocals have some really nice black metal leanings as well, contrasting further with their clean vocal-centric approach. “No Color, No Light” sees Cammie duet with Everygrey vocalist Tom Englund. It’s the penultimate track and continues to wring every drop of emotion out of The Banished Heart’s runtime. The final song is one of my absolute favorites. It’s a cover of the old folk/gospel standard “Wayfaring Stranger.” There’s a real finality to its atmosphere that serves as the perfect way to wrap up this album.
Oceans Of Slumber are one of the most exciting bands in the prog metal scene today. This latest record is a testament to their ability to create large dramatic compositions and smaller contemplative pieces. My only real complaint with the album is that its overall length is a bit steep, making listening front to back a bit of a chore. Not every song sticks as much as I wished it had, but that is purely subjective. Even though I have these small quibbles with the record, I find it to be pure magic. The atmosphere is dense, Cammie is a one in a million vocalist, and the songwriting is heart-wrenching and beautiful. While this group has plenty of style, on The Banished Heart they chose substance instead.
Personal Score: 8.5/10
I had my reservations about this album because I hear singles and I just start making assumptions, both good and bad, almost always hyperbolic. When “The Decay of Disregard” dropped, I was concerned because I felt… nothing. It was just an Oceans of Slumber song, for better or worse. The Texas prog metal band has a very deliberate aesthetic and I didn’t see much of it in that song. It wasn’t until I heard the song in the context of The Banished Heart that it all made sense.
Oceans of Slumber have always had the artistic wherewithal and vision to flesh out their sound organically, but here it seems stripped back and especially raw, and not for the worse. On the contrary, it did their somber sound some good, which probably sounds ridiculous because Winter, their last album, was nearly the apex of this feeling for me. When I hear songs like the title track and the emotional duet on “No Color, No Light”, there’s clearly a magic that had previously been untapped by them.
“The Banished Heart” is easily this album’s “Winter”. Not only do they both have the distinction of being their respective album’s title track, but they both hold in them the full spectrum of what makes this band so great. Cammie Gilbert exhibits her full vocal range from sinister lows to the highest, purest pitch that twinkles like stars in the sky. The prettiest moments on the album are when Gilbert is allowed to explore the latter and croon to her heart’s content, her voice like an affectionate hand protruding out of the blackened sea of fog created by the instrumentation.
Guitars moan and lurch, undulating out to heavy, metallic tones to give tracks weight and speed. The title track is a great example of the guitar playing a more reserved role in service to the atmosphere of the song which is driven primarily by piano, synths and Gilbert’s voice. “Etiolation”, true to its definition, shows great growth in darkness. It’s probably the catchiest track on the album with guitars grinding out simple but effective melodies and dancing up and down scales. It’s a relatively straightforward metal song complete with harsh vocals, but it’s pressed through Oceans of Slumber’s filters and distilled into greatness. “A Path to Broken Stars” also has some technical flair that drives the track and the chorus is so infectiously catchy.
Surprisingly, there’s a fair bit of blues influence in the vocals. Listen to the album closer “Wayfaring Stranger” or the intro of “Etiolation” to see what I mean. Gilbert’s inflection is that of a soul-baring blues singer, a tone that’s quite fitting of the band and what they build upon The Banished Heart. That being said, there’s a vocal effect that slightly washes out her voice on the final track and elsewhere that I’m not a fan of. It only slightly impedes the overall effort and surely with as thoroughly and meticulously produced as this album is, there was an artistic reasoning behind the decision, it just didn’t hit me well.
I don’t know how, but this band managed to outdo themselves and smash through what limitations I perceived them to have given their previous efforts. The Banished Heart is wildly impressive and indicative of a band that may just be catching their stride with the current lineup and set of ideas, and in some ways that’s scary. Have the depths of Texas birthed a monster in Oceans of Slumber? That remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: this year just got a lot darker and it feels great. I love this band. I love this album. May it blot out the sun for the rest of you as well.
Personal Score: 8.5/10
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Notable Tracks: “The Banished Heart”; “No Color, No Light”; “Etiolation”
FFO: Enslaved, Ne Obliviscaris, Black Crown Initiate