When local prog-metal troupe Oceans of Slumber take the stage at Fitzgerald's on Friday night to celebrate the release of their new EP, don't be surprised if they look and sound a little different than you remember. The band has added a keyboard player, for one thing. And then there's the small matter of their brand-new singer - the young woman with the light-brown skin and the big, soaring voice.
One familiar element that definitely hasn't changed is that the middle of the stage will still be occupied by Dobber Beverly, the headphones-wearing drum demolisher still best-known to many around these parts as the skin-smasher from bygone grindcore greats Insect Warfare. Now appreciated around town as much for his gentle grooves as for his bone-shattering rolls and fills, Beverly has been the backbone of Oceans of Slumber since the group's formation in 2011.
The idea back then was to get together and jam out some progressive tunes with no holds barred, pushing the boundaries of what metal could sound like. Four years later, they're pushing harder than ever.
"In the case of a band like us in this style that we float around in, this progressive music, change is a constant for us," Beverly says. "Our new material is completely different-sounding, and our even newer material sounds different from that. It's a steady evolution."
The biggest evolutionary leap since their first debut LP, obviously, has been their new instrumentation. That starts with Beau Beasley, Beverly's ex-Insect Warfare bandmate, who is now filling out Oceans' sound considerably with his deep collection of synth sounds.
"Our keyboard player is not a sit-down, classically trained-type guy," Beverly says. "He's an actual synthesizer guy. He knows his way around ELP and Yes and all that kind of stuff. It's cooler for us in that sense because now we can build more atmosphere and be more akin to Pink Floyd and the '70s-style stuff while mixing in the newer, more extreme elements that we also use."
Perhaps an even more significant change, of course, has been the addition of front woman Cammie Gilbert to the group. A major-league talent, Gilbert brings an added richness and an entirely new range to Oceans' sound, to say nothing of the feminine mystique her presence will add to a genre often lacking a woman's perspective.
"Our old vocalist really wasn't on the same page with us anymore," Beverly says. "Cammie is a friend of mine. I've known her for a little bit, and she's pretty much just been waiting in the background to take over the position, because it was going to happen one day or the other. As soon as Ronnie [Gates] exited the band, pretty much that same day she was in there and ready to go.
In the past three and a half months, Gilbert live-tracked her vocals for Oceans' new EP, Blue, and re-tracked the sophomore full-length, Winter, that the band has planned for release later this year. Her introduction as the band's new voice to the wider metal community came a couple of weeks ago, when their video for the Candlemass song "Solitude" was picked up by Metal Injection and other rock-news aggregators. It's one of four cover tunes that the band recorded for the new release; two other tracks are updated versions of previously released Oceans of Slumber songs.
"The whole idea behind doing this EP was that everything was 100 percent live: no overdubs, no anything, kept to a minimum of two takes," Beverly says. "We also decided to videotape the whole thing, and we got Josh Vargas, who works with Down and Soil and all these other hard rock and metal band, to come in and document the whole thing.
"'Solitude was the first video we released because it was the coolest, old-school metal-head carryover song that we did," he continues. "Because Candlemass was kind of a grandfather of the doom-metal scene, we just thought that it would be fitting to pay respect to them and release that first."
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Led by Gilbert's powerful pipes, "Solitude" reaches a certain majesty that Oceans of Slumber has never quite achieved before. Expectations have already been significantly raised for Winter, but Beverly says that the band is doing its best not to rush their second LP out the door.
"We really had to do this EP just to slow ourselves up, we write so fast," he says. "The finishing touches on Winter will be concluded at the end of March. We've got half of our third record finished, too, and we've just got to slow down or we'll just outrun ourselves financially.
"We've had a couple of record (offers) through some bigger labels, but the further we get into it, they are more concerned about our far-reaching influences," he continues. "They think it alienates listeners, because we are a progressive band and we don't just stick with one thing. Because of that, we just don't like anything they're throwing at us. It's so much easier for us to be independent as long as we're willing to foot the bill."
Despite all the time, money and progress being put into Oceans of Slumber, however, Beverly is still finding time to get in touch with his roots. He recently joined forces with local death-metal standouts War Master, and they're working on a new record, too. Very few in Houston can compete with Beverly when it comes to mauling a drum kit, so expect that one to be absolutely vicious.
"I will say that it's a departure from the earlier material," the drummer says. "Those guys, recruiting me, wanted to play faster. All we've done is basically injected a little bit of speed into their old-school-sounding death."
For a guy constantly pushing himself to play better, faster and more often, it seems the only thing that will never change for Dobber Beverly is the need to create.
"For me, it's about quality output," he says. "I just want to put music out because I need to get it out of me. Hell, you never know how long you're going to live. I might as well do everything I possibly can, within reason.
"And on my own terms, of course," he adds.
Oceans of Slumber celebrate the release of their new EP Friday at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, with Carrion Sun and Green as Emerald. Free for 21 and up; doors open at 8 p.m.
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