Emotion, one of the treasure troves of the musical world. Some of the most memorable songs in history have been because of their fierce sense of emotion behind them. Chanelling whatever feeling it might be that brought you to this specific place, the process can often be arduous yet cathartic in its resolve. Understanding this idea all too well, Texas borne Oceans of Slumber return with their sophomore effort The Banished Heart. Drawing from their previous experiences both in the band and out, The Banished Heart could well be the most emotionally raw performance of this year. Sitting down with the lovely Cammie Gilbert I was able to delve into the cavernous world of emotion that is The Banished Heart.
As the dial tone clicks, Cammie’s voice is positive cheerful, explaining that its a clear sunny day halfway across the world. Despite the trials and tribulations that have been put in front of her, she remains incredibly optimistic about The Banished Heart and its morose themes. A total juxtaposition from the gruelling emotional gauntlet we hear on the record.
“This theme is very dark, a departure for what we did for winter, it looks into the heart of an individual that has been exiled and neglected to the point that they don’t know up from down. They have deteriorated and become something that’s no longer desirable from within. This entity, this heart, is out there and the wilderness of the mind and then it makes a connection with another but we can’t really tell if this entity is good or bad for the protagonist. The two find each other and help each other or give each other comfort in this darkness. It encompasses this journey that Dobber and I have gone through in our personal lives and makes it a metaphor and a bit of a folklore attitude to dive into these thoughts that we’ve both had in this last year or so together.
Its kind of a lucid dream you could say, it very much is a true story to the two of us. It could be something that can be seen in any situation regardless of what they’re going through, to kind of speak to you in the deterioration and neglect. Looking into yourself and allowing yourself to be cast aside.”
Understanding that Oceans of Slumber‘s previous, heavily accoladed release Winter was more of a collaborative project, where each member would divulge their own stories leading to what a truly unique record. Now, the thread that lies in the labyrinth of The Banished Heart, lies very much with Cammie and co songwriter Dobber.
“With Winter it was a kind of collaborative thing. All the guys had their different stories and different experiences, even musically it was a bit more eclectic than The Banished Heart has turned out. With this one, we wanted to something that was a more of a tighter story and a theme along with the album. We agreed to focus on this drama around this story between Dobber and myself. Lyrically I did everything on my own, its definitely a diary on display moment. Sharing things that have gone on and just emotionally, how I have chosen to portray these experiences. Its incredibly personal.
If you’re going to make art at all, its a service to the people that in the catharsis of going through this experience with me, you’re listening to this album, they find comfort in something that they are going through, they’re there in this dark place, we’re sitting next to them so to speak while they go through it. Its meant to allow you to dwell safely and find a path out together.”
Multilayered in their approach, the ideas that lie behind The Banished Heart are manifold, ranging from the simple bold representations of physical struggle to the often swept under the rug issue of mental health. The album is a wanton reminder to be mindful of our own mental health.
“People will be in these relationships that will linger there even though its bad for them, logically. If something feels so bad that sometimes you have to make that decision to walk away. It would definitely shine some light on that, dwell within and be mindful of what is going on. The mind and mind sickness is very much a theme throughout this album.
Whilst lyrically this might well be a leap of faith, you could argue the same sentiment is felt in the musical songwriting. Opening with a nine minute track is a bold move in the age of Spotify and this Digital immediacy that we live in. Understanding that listeners are searching for more streamlined ways of listening, it harks back to the days of old where you could truly lose yourself in a record.
“All the songs are incredibly lengthy, I think we’ve maxed out all the space haha! People have very short attention spans nowadays. To be able to dwell in something, if those were 4 or 5 minutes I don’t know how they are songs anymore, when you’re getting into it, its over. These are very long songs, meant to create an atmosphere, one leads to the other very nicely. I would never think that was over an hour and I would hope that other people would feel that way too and that’s me knowing what was coming! I had to take some space away from it because it was really intense recording the songs so I only listened to a song at a time or parts of a song. It was intense.”
Of course some of the best works of our time have been from suffering. Not restricted to their own personal struggles, the very real arrival of Hurricane Harvey, brought not only physical but emotional devastation to the band. Losing their homes during the storm, it could be seen as a metaphor for the internal struggle that would spur the band on. Nevertheless, this is how masterpieces are created.
“I felt like it was arduous. This year (2017) was really hard, the hurricane hit in the middle of us recording. It made the city sad, it made us sad, we lost our house… It helped with going through the emotion of it but it threw off the momentum. It was just so sad, you would drive around and people’s houses would be gutted and you’re not at work, things are all upside down. The process got dragged out and it was just setback after set back. There was a lot of emotion that went into it, real time. There were sessions that were overwhelming, you have to kind of step away and gather.”
One of the most striking elements of the band has always been the vocal style of singer Cammie, coming from a Gospel background, her voice lends a warmth to what can so often be an icy and unforgiving musical landscape. Yet instead, the singer brings a careful caress to the music, creating a multilayered approach and no doubt one of the reasons that this phenomenal band stick out from the crowd.
“Mostly my background is not Metal. I grew up in a sort of Gospel, Jazz upbringing. Things were different, I learnt singing in choir at a southern church choir. I think it might have emphasised the details in my voice, as I got older and got into Rock and Metal, really pushing the angst and the aggression it shifted. I absolutely love being able to sing in Metal, to me Soul singing is neutral. To me, everyone sings from the soul and delivering the emotion behind what they’re singing. You can have soul in any genre, you lay it over Metal and its pretty intense. Then you lay it over Doom Metal and everyone’s like dying haha!It answers my heart’s desire and expression. I feel like a lot of female vocals are symphonic or there are growls, whereas I kind of fall right in the middle. Its been a good fit.
Nevertheless, with the fact that Oceans of Slumber are, and I hesitate to use the word Female Fronted, personally it shouldn’t matter whether its a woman or a man but thats just my opinion, somewhat stick out. Many of the Metal world are still grasping the idea that women are some of the most talented in the Metal world. Combining varying genres of Epica, Myrkur and Oceans of Slumber on their forthcoming UK tour despite their being a large difference in genre, you could see it as a stigma towards women, pigeonholing them in the same tour or a defiant rising up and understanding that women should be just as entitled in the Metal world as men.
“I guess it kind of varies. I’ve gotten so much different kinds of feedback. It never crossed my mind the feedback that I would get, the YouTube comments, you think, that came to your mind first?! In the US, its a super big deal that I’m black. In Europe it was almost not even there at all but in the US it was like “oh my goodness!”. People assuming that we were going to be more punk or something because of the shaved hair.
I think that people see female fronted Metal and they still think Symphonic Metal, the majority of female fronted bands are Symphonic Metal. There’s a weird kind crowd, there’s people who like female fronted metal. No bothered by the genre, because of the spread of the tour, with Myrkur and Epica but its a female fronted tour. Our voices are the united sound so it works because there are those types of fans. We’re kind of Doom Prog, then you’ve got fans who will come see us because its female fronted. I’m super stoked! I’ve never been with that many women on tour haha”
With that same sentiment, often due to the protective nature of the Metalhead, at times the genres fans can appear standoffish. Particularly to the opposite sex when it comes to singing. This hasn’t phased Cammie one bit however and rather the singer embraces this idea of community. Not to mention that Metal itself as a counter culture is one of the most identifiable in the music world. Wherever you might be, there’s always the nod towards the denim jacket, band patch clad wearing Metalhead. Similarly the idea of knowledge is something that every Metalhead strives for, we are, in a sense the librarians of the music world.
“I feel like I posed a lot on myself at first? I like to be knowledgable and I completely respect the integrity that Metal fans have and Metal as a genre has. I understand the protectiveness, I almost don’t claim to be a metalhead but at this point everyone is like “Yeah you are!”. You’re making Metal music, I don’t feel like I’m a metalhead until I get to expert, white wizard level of knowing a band’s discography haha! There’s such a profound respect form musicians in Metal and knowing what you’re talking about and why you’re talking about it that defines a Metalhead. I also get it because things have become so convoluted and everyone can make music that there is a lot of trash out there too. Everybody doesn’t need to do something just because they can. The culture of Metal I feel kind of transcends the culture of the land. If I got to Spain I can spot the Metalhead, if I got to Australia, I can spot the Metalhead. We have the look, we have the pins and patches. We’re all here and we’re all the same and I think that’s bad ass.
You go to other genres, you can’t tell. You don’t have such an identifiable culture that goes along with that kind of music. You got to another country, learn the language and follow the customs and fit in. Its like that with Metal, its being invited into a family and a culture. Its more than “I just listen to Metal”. I got this book from Maryland Deathfest about the history of Death Metal and I just think, this is so cool! I’m eating it up and learning as much as I can.”
Not only departing thematically from the content put forward on Winter, the band also chose a different visual direction for the new record. After the gorgeous Costin Choireneau artwork the band had, this time the group opted for a far more confrontational yet just as delicate photograph of singer Cammie holding a bleeding heart.
“We wanted to depart from doing a drawn cover. We wanted to bring back the photograph. Its a real heart, not a human heart but I think that theres a vulnerability and a sombreness of it. This heart is claimed but there’s still this bleeding heart, somewhere someone was injured and there is a the care and the caress but there is still the triumph. All of those contrasts is what we like about it, we want to have a bit of interpretation but it also has all the elements of what the album comes to summarise.”
Understanding that The Banished Heart could well be the most emotional work that Oceans of Slumber have penned is half of the experience. Immersing the listener in this temporary cocoon of suffering, The Banished Heart’s wears its aforementioned heart on its sleeve. A sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful, honest look into the very depths of our own mental states, channelling grief, pain and suffering to create one of the most painfully honest works I’ve heard to date.
“For me its a chronicling and an open letter between Dobber and I. Something that came together and an experience that was so real and raw that. Its like we had a kid over this year, this album is like an actual baby! I’ve no words for what it means to me. Its a huge true expression, I can’t imagine having kept it inside or not having had this outlet to let it out. It means a lot to me, its sink or swim with this one.”