I really liked 2018’s The Banished Heart, but 2020’s self titled was something even more special, making it on to my end of year list. I wasn’t sure how Oceans of Slumber could top their last album, and I’m pleased that they haven’t tried to; as you may have noticed, I’ve tagged this as a progressive rock album, rather than a progressive metal one, as there have been some big changes in the Oceans of Slumber camp. Yes, after the resounding success of their last album, Starlight and Ash marks a change in direction for Oceans of Slumber.
To start with, the songs are generally shorter. As is the album as a whole, which clocks in at a relatively lean 50 minutes, considering both previous albums were both over 65 minutes in length. The bigger changes come in the style of the music. This is the least metal the band have sounded, but that’s okay, as Starlight and Ash is all about emotion, atmosphere, and deep immersion.
Stylistically the band have leaned further into their melodic, Gothic, and Southern rock proclivities. They then build on their existing progressive strengths, adopting a Gothic/progressive rock style, as well as incorporating non-metal-adjacent ones such as gospel, soul, and pop. Essentially Oceans of Slumber have taken this new direction and refined their songwriting and performances, leading to the most accessible version of the band so far. This increased accessibility doesn’t mean that the songs lack depth or longevity, but rather sees streamlined song-based songwriting take to the fore that emphasises the band’s already strong hooks, just in a different form.
The songs are now fully written and arranged around the exceptional vocals of the band’s singer. This doesn’t mean that the music is an afterthought, as a lot of thought and feeling has clearly gone into its crafting. Rather, it means that the singer is now fully in the limelight, with the music orbiting around her, drawn to the inexorable gravitational pull of her immense talent. Of her singing, this must surely be her best performance yet. You’ll find none of the backing growls from previous albums here, only the superlative vocals of the lead singer.
The end result of all of the above is a collection of song-focused tracks that are captivating and infectious. Oceans of Slumber have crafted an album that’s impressive and compelling.