Pure Cinema: Oceans of Slumber’s “The Banished Heart”
The word "cinematic" gets thrown around a lot in music criticism, but few albums would make good movies. Most would be subpar summer filler at best, up to their gills in plasticy CGI and plot contrivances. All garish flash with very little substance beneath the digital sheen.
Oceans of Slumber, on the other hand, makes records that actually feel cinematic, precisely because they focus on real feeling. Their newest record, The Banished Heart, out today via Century Media, is a bona fide drama detailing each step in the dissolution of an intimate relationship. Though it is a sumptuous and melodramatic record in the mold of any number of gothic metal albums, The Banished Heart does not wallow. Oceans of Slumber takes the listener through an emotional arc, one that allows them to express both joy and sorrow, despair and rage.
Given that the album is so narratively driven, we spoke to singer Cammie Gilbert and drummer Dobber Beverly about the ins-and-outs of each track on The Banished Heart and how they build to the record's haunting conclusion.
Lyrically, "The Decay of Disregard" has an accusatory tone. Why was it important for The Banished Heart to start this way?
Cammie Gilbert: It was important to me that The Banished Heart had a very poignant and realistic element of storytelling to it. The songs are not just odes to a state of being, but metaphorical retellings of the experiences that had passed in the last year and a half. In the turbulence of an emotional break down between two people, often accusations and blame are what will rear their heads first. The best place for the album to start was essentially in the middle of all the trouble.
"Fleeting Vigilance" is a great example how a song where the vocal duties are split up. Given that you often have very melodic vocals over some of your heaviest moments, how do you decide when to bring in harsh vocals?
Gilbert: Having spent a lot more time exploring death metal, black metal, and grindcore bands over this past year, I felt a lot more equipped to write in harsher vocals for The Banished Heart. I aimed to place harsh vocals wherever I felt the song would be better served by it. Primarily places where maintaining a more abrasive, heavier tone was my focus.
"At Dawn" feels like a major emotional turning point for the record, as a climax to the "first act" so to speak. Was it written with this placement in mind, or did the track order fall into place later in the process?
Gilbert: “At Dawn” is a song about coming to terms with the denial often found in emotionally neglectful or abusive relationships. The songs were written at different times and in no particular order. It was just understood that the overall story and themes of the album were going to focus on the loss, suffering, neglect, and damage of a drawn out and ruined relationship coming to its end.
"The Banished Heart" is melodically rich song that moves through several different arrangements and moods, almost like a theatrical piece. What is the process for building a song like this, and what are some of your influences for this kind of writing?
Dobber Beverly: It was a concept that was born from a story. Partly from personal tragedies and partly from hope. Resolve in the form of music. Being a lifelong (metal) musician and an avid classical/film music buff, it seemed logical to combine the two even more so than we had before. It started on the piano. A building of tension and sorrow. The main theme of the first half of the song (DMaj-BbMaj with the vii-iii ornamentation) was the first thing I wrote for it during a long contemplative period of my life. A very personal piece for me that is equal parts Rachmaninoff/James Newton Howard/Evergrey/Emperor.
Why did you decide to place "The Watcher" at this juncture of the record?
Beverly: "The Watcher" was meant to be the sinister voice or call after the calming of the storm. Once the end of “The Banished Heart” comes to be you’re at a place of love and fulfillment. So once we’ve landed at resolve we need to move forward with a “it’s not finished and isn’t over in the least." So a subsonic pursuant (Omnisphere 2) was needed to chase us into the next act.
"The other side of bliss is misery" is a key lyric to "Etiolation" because it suggests that the two aren't just opposites but are connected like two sides of one coin. What is the significance of this particular lyrics?
Gilbert: Often people talk about seeking happiness above all else, about going after what they love, or following their heart… I think what these people fail to acknowledge is that often to get what we want, something else must be given up. To indulge in a new relationship in the pursuit of love means to let someone else down by leaving them. One person's bliss can be another’s misery.
"A Path to Broken Stars" seems to be about someone who has changed for the worse and lost sight of themselves in the process. Was there a specific person or type of person that you were addressing with this song or was it meant to be more generalized?
Gilbert: That sums up the song well. This song was inspired by a type of person and is a generalized perspective on internet sensationalized women. A world in which increased sexualization, attention seeking, obsession with cyber self, widened definitions of privacy, conformity seeking, and groupthink have essentially driven women to accepting new norms, perhaps to society’s own detriment.
"Howl of the Rougarou" is another song about change, one that uses folklore as an allegory. What is the Rougarou meant to represent in this song?
Gilbert: The Rougarou represents the wild awakening within ourselves, it is an answering to the carnal urges calling to us and telling us to act upon them. In this particular song it is meant to represent repressed feeling of love and lust. This metaphor served to make the presentation of this part of the story a more psycho-social safe place so to speak.
Like "The Watcher," "Her in the Distance" functions as a kind of act break in the record. What was your intention at placing this song before the final two tracks?
Beverly: It’s a piece about our children, where and what they occupy for us when we’re away. Essentially it’s about love and sometimes that love has to be from a distance and how heartbreaking and desolate that it can feel. A very lonely place. It’s placement before “No Color...” is a statement for love's calling and need.
Tom S. Englund is such a perfect fit for "No Color, No Light." How did your collaboration with him come about, and what was it like working with him?
Gilbert: Tom has been a friend of the band for some time now. When "No Color, No Light" was first presented to me, I was thrilled about its doom elements. Lyrically as it became a sort of call and response style song, we knew we wanted to seek out Tom to convey the dualities that were speaking to me within it. He was very gracious in obliging us and recorded his parts of the song while on tour through the U.S.
What message did you want listeners to leave the album with, and how did "Wayfaring Stranger" represent that message?
Gilbert: That, in the words of Rebekka Karijord, “consistency is a virtue of the dead.” That only in death is our love eternal.