In their decade or so as a band, the Texas group Oceans of Slumber’s sound has evolved. It has always been progressive, with other influences appearing and disappearing over the years. They took a quantum leap forward when vocalist Cammie Beverly (formerly Gilbert) joined the band for their sophomore release, 2016’s Winter. Starlight and Ash is their fifth full-length.
It's their most accessible album to-date. There are still some metal moments to be found, but it's more in the gothic rock vein with Beverly weaving compelling stories. It's also their most focused and streamlined effort. While previous albums have featured numerous songs in the 7 to 9 minute range, this time around most are in the 4 to 5 minute with the longest clocking in at around 6 minutes.
Those gothic elements rear their head on "Hearts of Stone," ebbing and flowing between potent riffs and quiet moments. It's the story of someone plagued by bad decisions and no matter how far we try to run, everything seems to catch up with us. "The Lighthouse" features a soulful performance from Beverly and an arrangement that has a little twang (especially towards the end) and a brief but effective guitar solo.
The middle section of the record has several songs that start out on the mellow side. Some stay that way ("The Hanging Tree"), while others transition to a more grandiose approach ("Salvation"). The piano instrumental "The Spring of 21" overstays its welcome a bit, but is an effective bridge to "Just a Day," with that piano continuing for a while before doomy guitars kick in. The tempo is also doomlike until near the end, when it unexpectedly accelerates with more guitar goodness.
Those atmospherics continue on the album closer “The Shipbuilder’s Son,” which kick in after a quiet, sparse section, and then fades down to a quiet ending. It’s an appropriate way to conclude Starlight and Ash, with that subdued finale giving the listener a chance to absorb all that’s come before.
While the album is Oceans of Slumber's least heavy album musically, it is as emotionally heavy or heavier than anything they've done. Masterful compositions that reveal more secrets with each listen along with Beverly's tour de force vocal performance make Starlight and Ash an impactful and powerful listen.