Much darker in tone than its ethereal predecessor (both Century Media), The Banished Heart is no less beautiful in its execution. Where Winter would often soar, this record looks inward and deals much more heavily with personal, introspective feelings of heartbreak and loss.
The darker, more sombre melodies touched upon by the Oceans of Slumber on Winter are pushed to the forefront of this record. Cammie Gilbert’s voice plays a huge part in the records sorrowful tone, as she exudes genuinely earnest emotion with every breath she takes, but the band supports her tremendously adding the kind of depth and variety we’ve come to expect from the Texans. In the case of Sean Gary, we have this scathing, almost untamed riffing displayed on ‘At Dawn’ complimenting the sheer power in Cammie’s delivery. In complete contrast, we’re treated to the thick rumbling tone of Keegan Kelly’s bass which adds a lot of warmth to Cammie’s soothing voice. As a further example, the addition of Tom S. Englund’s (Evergrey) deliberate melodrama on ‘No Color, No Light’ adds a flair of grandeur to the record that is reminiscent of early 90s Doom (around the time My Dying Bride turned loose those pesky swans), which is probably the biggest compliment you could give a record as melancholic and melodramatic as this. That essence of melodrama is best explored on the album’s title track which is equal parts orchestral, Prog Metal epic and heartstring-tugging love song.
The Banished Heart is fragile in all the best possible ways, because there’s grace in that vulnerability, and that only emphasises the conviction and ambition displayed by Cammie and Co. The more menacing and riff heavy ‘Etiolation’, for instance, is offset by mournful interludes like ‘The Watcher’ and the simplistic, piano-lead ‘Her in the Distance’. The juxtaposition of these delicate touches and outright fury perfectly summarises the kind of back and forth one goes through when experiencing extreme grief; that need to weep uncontrollably while also wanting to scream your lungs out.
From the minimalist, country-style intro of ‘Howl of the Rougarou’ to the gospel-inspired ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ that closes the record, this record speaks volumes as to the kind of reach that Oceans of Slumber have as a band, both in Metal and beyond. The diverse stylings are intricate and precise, but it never becomes inaccessible, and these two tracks alone are the perfect melodic breaks that could potentially bring in listeners from all walks of life. It’s not progressive to the point of being pompous or intimidating, this is art anyone can relate to and these are songs anyone can sing along to – not as well as Cammie, probably, but you’d be forgiven for trying. It’s soulful, it’s honest, and it’s spellbinding in both its technical prowess and the emotion it exudes. A troubled heart really does create the best art.