This Friday is a special day for progressive-metal masters Oceans of Slumber. Their brand-new LP, Winter, will be released on Century Media Records, a metal-focused tentacle of the Sony entertainment empire. Among other things, this means the Houston five-piece now has worldwide distribution.
Whether you favor this sort of metal or not is inconsequential — there are albums that hit, and then there are albums that hit you; Winter is one of the latter. No other band is making music like Oceans, no one comes close to their level of skill and technical expertise, and this album will prove it. The time will come soon when we will all talk about when we knew this band before they became famous.
And just in time: Houston could use some new metal heroes.
Over beers and music under the stars at new Midtown beer garden Axelrad Houston, lead singer Cammie Lue and drummer Dobber Beverly explain exactly why Winter will be such a paradigm-changer for metal. First of all, several band members are professional musicians and teachers. Second, the music is paramount. Not only do they practice three to five times a week, but when they come together, they're already polished.
In fact, Winter was completely recorded in a week's time: three days for drums, about a week for guitars.
"Everything we view about this band is more important [to us] than anything else on the fucking planet," Beverly explains, looking me dead in the eye. "It has to be that way, or you won't succeed. This is my whole career, my whole life. I take it very, very seriously."
That seriousness is self-evident. Five out of five stars wouldn't be enough of a compliment to this record; it is nothing short of masterful. Fiercely creative melodies are set to lyrics that ring with a poetic beauty rarely seen in metal. That poignant expression is what makes Oceans so different.
While most metal comes from a place of vitriol and aggression, those themes also distract many listeners from anger's real source: pain. Few American bands are secure enough in their musicality to bring this level of skill and vulnerable expression to their music, instead of sub-sophomoric songs little better than angsty teen rants. With 12 tracks total, Winter is an honest vision of loss, suffering and pain.
"Winter, for me, is a look at some of the raw and very personal experiences we've been through," Lue explains. "It's definitely very meticulously done. Lots of genuine experiences went into it, like grief and loss and heaviness; emotional undertones. The album itself is a journey of hopelessness. It's a climb back out of that."
Songs like "Apopologue," "Suffer the Last Bridge" and" Summer" hit you right in the feels. Twice. No sensation is left untouched. Speaking to the spiritual journey that music affords, Beethoven once said, "Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents." Winter is a tremendous journey through the heart, broken and mended.
Beverly's approach to the raw feelings that Winter evokes was of his own design.
"Are you willing to have your fucking day ruined by listening to this record, because it's very, very serious," he says. "It's emotionally real. It's therapeutic, you know? If I can get out all of my stuff by listening to soul-stirring music, then I don't have to carry that weight around, you know?"
Lue adds, "It's a deep catharsis."
Winter is that record; it's not some crybaby emo tearjerker. This is art in one of its most glorious forms: the marriage of sound and poetry. The pluck of a string, crash of a cymbal or a specific note in Lue's voice (or several) may carry you to a place you haven't fathomed in years.
Listen to Lue singing Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" and try to remain unmoved by her voice.
Winter is the kind of album that demands listening in solitude, allowing the music to flow through those rooms in your mind reserved for seeking answers and questions. It speaks its own language to achieve a resonating communion with listeners. Epic in scope, enormous in presentation, Winter takes metal forward.
Lue explains the process it took to create the album.
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"It's a collective of writing. To me, the other members write very fast; it's almost like a telekinesis," she laughs. "It moves and comes out of them so organically, it's extremely fast-paced and intense how they write. Each of them took their own experiences and then cascaded that into what the arrangement came out to be.
"Winter is kind of the first look at who we are for many people," continues Lue. "The kind of journey we want to take, the emotions we want to evoke in [our listeners] overall if they come into this world now, they can expect deeper discovery through what we're doing. The more people we reach, the better. We just want to grow the tribe of Oceans with as many people as we can."
"In the short time we've been around, we've come up very quickly and not by accident, you know?" adds Beverly. "We're the real thing."
Oceans of Slumber will perform an in-store at Cactus Music, 2110 Portsmouth, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. See cactusmusictx.com for details.