Oceans of Slumber have crafted a tender power in each song on The Banished Heart that unfurls slowly with deep, steady, smoky vocals and thick thoughtful riffs. What I enjoy most about The Banished Heart is finding myself lost in the rawness and vulnerability of the vocals and lyrics. They're unafraid to stay indulgent and their boldness is impressive. It's just not something you hear much of anymore, and I didn't know modern metal could be this heartfelt.
The themes of angst and introspection weaved throughout The Banished Heart appear in their musical composition as a poetic, torrid testimony to the lows and the highs of the human experience. In expressing this complex concept, Oceans of Slumber use a variety of metal-specific techniques. Employing this huge array of nuances makes the album feel exploratory. For example, you'll find unabashed black metal riffs in "The Howl of Rougarou," irregular time signatures and penetrating beautiful syncopation in "A Path to Broken Stars," and blast beats mixed with mid to mid/fast tempo double-bass in "Fleeting Vigilance."
The variety of techniques are executed brilliantly, but they only show up sporadically on the album. I can't help but find it a bit scattered. Its consistency is one of the only trivial gripes I have about the album. While the path to self-discovery is never consistent, each song feels as though the musical backdrop has been painted with a different medium of colors. It's beautiful and interesting and certainly showcases the incredible experience of each musician, but I find the enormous variety of moods a bit distracting.
The album is nothing short of an emotional purge executed by seriously talented musicians. I feel as though there isn't much Oceans of Slumber couldn't do. Perhaps their scatteredness could be compared to a kid in a huge sandbox, they could start digging anywhere. While one can enjoy the album as a book— from beginning to end—there are a few stand-out tracks. Opening track "The Decay of Disregard" feels like a walk through a surreal and mysterious forest. Spotted with stunningly beautiful moments of clarity, emotion builds up over the 9-minute track length and crescendoes at the end in more blast beats and a soaring chorus.
"No Color, No Light" is somehow fragile and huge at the same time. It feels almost like a ballad. Meanwhile, "A Path To Broken Stars" is impressively composed. There's a subtle aggression in the melody of the song controlled by careful and intense drum work. It gives the song a compelling momentum. The title track is a wonderful song and example of Oceans of Slumber's ability to effectively tell a deeply personal story. The moment I was looking for in the beginning tracks finally comes to fruition here; Cammie Gilbert's vocals open up and find a moment of unbridled ecstasy to live in.
The next track, "The Watcher," is an effective transition from the title track's heights to the black sands of discontent. There are no lyrics. Instead, effective soundscaping oozes of dissonance. It evokes the feeling of partial slumber—half in, and half out of reality.
The Banished Heart is an album burgeoning on timeless greatness in a way that makes me so excited for what's to come for them. I am willing to bet that seeing Oceans of Slumber in concert is phenomenal and that the story of The Banished Heart would come to life as a play would on stage. The album is so intensely personal and purposefully written, that each member must metaphorically bleed on stage. Each technical element incorporated into this album is done so with skill, and I feel that the band as a whole has an overall balance of ability. No one instrument outshines the other, which is saying a lot considering the impressive songwriting, guitar work, and production.
If you're looking for an atmospheric, doomy, and emotional experience, The Banished Heart will be your catharsis. Even if you're not looking for that, The Banished Heart offers excellence in so many areas of metal that it is definitely worth your time.