It is beginning to become apparent that it is our fate, preordained by a cruel group of gods intent on prolonging our misery, to keep railing and raging against the sin of album structure and, more specifically, this industry’s apparent inability to understand how important it is. Album after potentially great album are destroyed in the hot fires of confusion, chaotic arrangements rendering their otherwise decent voices into a cacophony of wailing, lacking context or understanding. It is an especially frustrating flaw to have; you can sense the potential being squandered, willing as hard as you can to manage to like and enjoy this disjointed mess, like Frankenstein mewling over his mangled creation. To come to the point, Oceans of Slumber‘s Winter is such a frustrating creation. This album is filled with gems and when it’s on, you know it’s on. However, it is also almost completely dominated by lackluster explorations into arena rock, cover songs and lukewarm folk renditions, completely burying the excellence contained within it in a bland nothingness.
It hurts to write those words, it really does. “Winter” is such an amazing opening track: it’s strain of death metal unashamedly incorporates female vocals in the best possible of ways. Instead of regulating them to a backing role it gives them the front of the stage, blending them with blast beats. The guitars are fast without losing heart and the unexpected screeches near the end of the track elevate it from a gimmick into something honest, internally cohesive and convincing. Furthermore, the second track is also great! “Devout” is once again exceedingly heavy without sacrificing the unique arrangement created with the female vocals.
It begins slowly, almost hinting towards doom metal, but then erupts with a furious middle section that leaves your jaw hanging. It’s not exactly the most innovative of things but it’s produced accurately and performed with vitality. The female vocals is where it really kicks you in the gut, expertly achieving what so many bands fail to: they’re emotional without being cheesy, ethereal without being disjointed and central without being overbearing. The other instruments flow with it, great solos, bridges and growls working only to mingle and interplay with them, not contest and downplay as is so often the case.
Skipping over the “fly over tracks” for now, the ending of the album also holds much to be pleased about. “Apologue” is an engaging sojourn in the more melodic aspects of death metal, opening up the tight and blisteringly fast structures of the first couple of tracks in favor of slower and more melodic passages. Nevertheless, it’s also the heaviest track on the album, with the vocals digging into guttural squeals and the instruments slowly flirting with the concepts of technical death metal. The album then closes with a melodic trio, a guitar track, a more calm ambient piece and finally, a piano to close everything off with “Grace”.
But now we must, we must I tell you, go back to those “fly over tracks” and taste the bitter poison at the bottom of the cup. Imagine this for a second: “Devout” is ending and you’re pleased. It and it’s predecessor track were great; the rest of the album should be good as well. Here comes the third rack and…it’s a cover version of “Nights in White Satin”? It’s not even that good? That is, it’s OK and it introduces a heavy part with blastbeats near the end which are a bit of novelty but other than that it’s, well, “Nights in White Satin”, one of the more masticated and boring tracks in rock n roll’s dire history. Nor does the disappointment relent: the next two tracks are folk songs, one a lullaby. While they’re certainly nice, they completely rob the album of any momentum that it might have been and, if we’re being honest, their renditions are safe and obvious.
Even more disappointed is the band’s lack of commitment to even this strange route. If, for example, they had stuck with the folk vibe, only to have later come back to the heavier tracks, it might have worked. Instead, they resort to yet another style that’s out of place, further shattering this album into pieces. “Suffer the Last Bridge”, “Sunlight” and “Turpentine” can only easily be bundled into one package as they display arena rock and metal in its most shallow and forgettable form. Like Metallica‘s “Unforgiven” or a track from Guns n’ Roses, they fade when the last emotion-laden chord fades into the distance.
All of this and more leaves Winter a frustrating and disappointing creation. If the band had only cut back on the fat in the middle of the album and had position the heavy tracks one after the other, interspersed by the more successful mellow creation, this could have been a great progressive metal album, swinging between melodic death metal, symphonic metal and rock. Instead, we have a disjointed mess, filled with moments that make no sense and which leave the listener scratching their head in askance. To makes matter even worse, this is effectively the band’s debut, with their first record, Aetherial, not making its mark on the community. This was their chance to create a positive and vigorous image of what they are, a strong proclamation of what their music and intent are. Instead, they’ve spoken a mumbled jumble of words, incoherent at best. One the few, full words shine through it’s beautifully articulate but, mostly, it’s unintelligible.