Oceans of Slumber - Aetherial
Self-released
Progressive Metal
9 songs (59' 49")
Release year: 2013
Reviewed by Andy
Surprise of the month

I picked Houston prog metallers Oceans of Slumber out of the promo list without having much of an idea of what they were -- I just liked the sound of the album name. Aetherial, their self-released debut, turned out to be almost overwhelmingly dense, and something of a puzzling release with endless twists and turns in each song. It's progressive with some death influence, but crosses genres without a pause; there were a number of parts that would have been perfectly at home in a doom or groove metal album. This is an intricate album that's tough to get through without several careful listens, but despite its initially rather frustrating complexity, Aetherial is very rewarding.

There is a dreamlike feel to the whole thing, partially because of the production, which has a padded, smooth feel to it, and partially because of the band's sound, an arrhythmic amalgamation of death metal blastbeats and gently-picked, clean guitar that's heavy on the delay/chorus effects. Ronnie Allen's vocals aren't amazingly flexible and are probably the weakest part of Oceans of Slumber's offering, with mostly monotonic clean singing/roaring mixed with death metal vocals, but they serve their purpose. The rest of the band, on the other hand, are completely over the top in terms of musicianship. Anything they put together, be it high-speed death metal riffs with double-kicked drums, doomy dragging, or grind-style assaults on the the ears, is tightly wound together and fascinating to listen to...and no sooner has one figured out the riff than the band is already on a different passage of the song, or done with it entirely. For all I know, the passages in their songs might get boring after a while, but Oceans of Slumber never gives any one of them the chance to do so. Most of the songs include a superbly fast-picked lead guitar line with ever-changing melodies that snipes at the listener in a form of guitar guerilla warfare, which also contributes to keeping the song interesting.

God in Skin, the first track, was pretty hard for me to get into; it's complex and atonal, and there's just not enough variety in the vocals to make the song take off. But Coffins Like Kites and Memoriam are a lot more fun and showcase the band's sound better. These particular ones are doomy prog that is both downhearted and complex, a crazy journey across a bombed-out soundscape of metal genres, and the vocals do much better here than in the preceding track. The simpler melody towards the end of Coffins Like Kites is good too, something of a relief after the prog craziness of the first track-and-a-half, and we even get some guest female vocals in Memoriam -- a small and pleasant surprise. After the more complex and jazzy Remedy, which had almost a late-90s grunge sound in some portions, the sound stays complex but the melodies get more accessible. Only A Corpse, the title track, and Primordial all have those cool chorus-pedal guitar passages and fast-picked lead interspersals mixed in with the death metal, and Primordial has a portion during the clean picking that sounds like something Cynic would have put together. The combination is brilliant, and there's so much in each song that one feels like he has gone through a mini-album every time one of these are done. Blackest Cloud is a little simpler and gives some breathing room, but they still manage to bury the listener in complex melodies and to stuff the first couple of lines of "The Star Spangled Banner" (yes, the American national anthem) into the main solo.

The final track, Great Divide, I can only describe as an epic saga for the listener. This is a ten-minute slog that's just as dense as the preceding songs, but the chorus melody is stronger, the aforementioned lead guitar line is even more cleverly technical, and about two-thirds of the way through the song the lead guitar completely takes over and gives us a longer solo. It's quite a strong finish to the album.

After the first listen, I was going to give this a lower score than I am now, but during the course of writing this review (with Aetherial playing non-stop), I revised my opinion. It just takes a few listens to appreciate it fully, so if you don't feel like you're getting into it, I strongly recommend trying it a few more times. While exhausting at times, and certainly not an album designed for mindless headbanging fun, this complex work is excellent once you give Oceans of Slumber a chance to work their magic.

Killing Songs :
Coffins Like Kites, Memoriam, Only A Corpse, Great Divide
Andy quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Oceans of Slumber that we have reviewed:
Oceans of Slumber - Winter reviewed by Joel and quoted 88 / 100
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