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Oceans of Slumber's last album was, in my conception, a masterpiece. Two years on from 'Winter' and we have the Texan quintet's full-length follow-up, 'The Banished Heart'. Whereas the songs on 'Winter' generally felt like well-thought out, structured compositions, the material constituting 'The Banished Heart' feels more like a stream of consciousness in the form of music. Sure, tracks adhere to well-composed structures, although the songs, this time, are more organic in that the emotions ARE the songs, rather than the emotions hanging off structured compositions. In this sense, listening to 'The Banished Heart' is quite the emotional journey and experience.

'Winter' was a work of melancholically majestic beauty, whereas the overriding aesthetic of 'The Banished Heart' is one that sinks deeper into melancholic despair. Far deeper. This is an album not only steeped in melancholy, but one of desolation, anguish and despondency. A musically blackened work that must've been born from a profound darkness in both psyche and being. All that said, it's not about discordantly depressing inaccessibility. Far from it. This encapsulates beauty in darkness with a sense of true sublimity and transcendence. An incredibly bleak and dissonant sublimity at times, but also punctuated with glimpses of hope and optimism that shine through the mire of despair.

Offering an emotionally immersive and affectively profound experience, wherein resides the potential for cathartic edification, 'The Banished Heart' will undoubtedly serve as a catalyst to feed, quell and cleanse any negativity in the psyche of certain listeners. An overinflated assumption? Maybe, but music can be medicine for the mind, soul and your very emotional being. That's irrefutable. In this sense, 'The Banished Heart' could actually provide an aural antidote to its very own sonic despondency.

Once again, Oceans of Slumber's progressions within their songs adhere to the genuine rather than the generic. They're just as comfortable transitioning into bursts of metal extremity, such as the black metal style tremolo picking and growls that punctuate 'At Dawn' so dramatically, as they are introducing tranquil piano/vocal interludes. Look no further than the title track for an epitome of the latter. The progressive element of Ocean of Slumber's musical aesthetic is natural and genuine, rather than contrived and generic. We're talking about emotionally-led progressions here, on an album that's all about light and shade - stylistically and emotionally, with one reflecting the other over any given passage of music.

Production-wise, the album sounds fantastic. Performance-wise, it also shines. Anthony Contreras and Sean Gary's guitar work is fantastic - adding all kinds of textures to the songs, from the subtle to the overt and everything in-between, while also letting rip with their virtuosic chops as and when songs require. Keegan Kelly's bass playing is fundamental to tracks, adding resonant depth to all the sonic torment. Dobber Beverly's drumming, as on 'Winter', is quite wondrous once again, and rides the fragility of songs more mellow passages with perfect timbre, which contrasts dramatically with his bursts of blast-beat fury. And his fills are just incredible. A drummer who can add to music's emotional qualities is all too rare, but he succeeds emphatically. And Cammie Gilbert's vocals are, once again, on the whole, sheer bliss in the wide range of emotions and tonality she's able to convey.

Whereas a large portion of the album is a straight 10/10, and some of it's even off the scale - I mean, there are pieces of music here that encapsulate pure sublimity and are, quite simply, transcendent - there are also some weak spots. In 'Fleeting Vigilance, 'At Dawn' and 'Etiolation', the death growls are acerbically affective, but a little two-dimensional, and would've felt more integrated into the songs' emotional fabric if they had more tonality (think Tomas Lindberg, for example). The growls sounds a little more forced this time around.

'No Color, No Light' is a great composition, although Cammie's duet with Tom S. Englund doesn't work seamlessly within the aesthetic of the track. At least to my ears. The Evergrey frontman's voice lacks emotional sincerity, and is outshined not only by the composition itself, but by the affective profundity within Cammie's delivery. Englund's delivery sounds hammy and with a touch of magniloquence. And during 'A Path to Broken Stars', Cammie's voice itself seems a little lacklustre, particularly over the track's oft-repeated motif (which sounds a little too familiar... although I can't quite think where from), in a composition that most certainly isn't the strongest on the album.

So, then, whereas there's material on 'The Banished Heart' that is as great, if not better, than the music on 'Winter', in terms of my emotional connection to its core, it's Oceans of Slumber's 2016 work that edges it for me. However, we still have a mightily strong follow-up album here from these incredibly talented Texans.
Century Media
Review by Mark Holmes
2nd March 2018
1) The Decay of Disregard
2) Fleeting Vigilance
3) At Dawn
4) The Banished Heart
5) The Watcher
6) Etiolation
7) A Path to Broken Stars
8) Howl of the Rougarou
9) Her in the Distance
10) No Color, No Light
11) Wayfaring Stranger
"This encapsulates beauty in darkness with a sense of true sublimity and transcendence. An incredibly bleak and dissonant sublimity at times, but also punctuated with glimpses of hope and optimism that shine through the mire of despair."