REVIEW: OCTOBER TIDE – “In Splendor Below”
Originally a side project from the mind of Fredrik Norman (ex-Katatonia, Uncanny) turned cult classic band, October Tide returns with their fourth album after its resurrection. With their debut and highly acclaimed debut album ‘Rain Without End’, the band cemented itself as an underground classic in the death/doom universe, alongside the likes of Katatonia and the Peaceville 3 (Anathema, My Dying Bride, and Paradise Lost). Unlike those bands, October TIde went with a more melodic approach while maintaining the sorrow and gloom of their contemporaries. Unfortunately, the band never achieved the same commercial heights as those bands even with their second and underrated album ‘Grey Dawn’. 10 years later, the band came back together to release an underappreciated comeback album ‘A Thin Shell’ which set the stage for the band to continue to move forward with new music. Over the years, October Tide changed lineups fairly frequently, and on their new album ‘In Splendor Below’, the band once again features another new line up. Mattias Norman now joined his brother Fredrik on guitars, while Johan Jönsegård and Jonas Sköld joined in for bass and drums. With a new, and possibly more permanent line up, what would the band be able to achieve?
Compared to the previous two albums, ‘In Splendor Below’ is an amalgamation of both ‘Tunnel of No Light’ and ‘Winged Waltz’. You can expect the same atmospheric inclinations of ‘Winged Waltz’ scattered throughout the new album. My favorite aspect of that album was the increased bass presence and with a new bassist joining the band, I was afraid the bass presence was lost. Fortunately, you can expect just as much, if not more, bass presence on ‘In Splendor Below’. Songs like “Seconds” and “We Died in October” have the bass driving the melody and bridges respectively. Taking a page from ‘Tunnel of No Light’, ‘In Splendor Below’ keeps the soundscapes of the interludes and bridges where you’ll hear some guitar melodies draped over the band in the distance while something more rhythmic goes on in the foreground; “I, The Polluter” and “Seconds” are great examples. The production of the new album doesn’t veer far off the production of ‘Tunnel of No Light’ which keeps the album sounding bleak and heavy.
‘In Splendor Below’ also has moments that will remind you of the first three albums. “I, The Polluter” is a great example of this. The leading single kicks off the album with a barrage of melodic riffs reminiscent of ‘Grey Dawn’ while leading into some vocal/melody sections reminiscent of songs from ‘Rain Without End’. “Guide My Pulse” and “Stars Serve Me” also have these melodic qualities with some lovely melodic solos in the former and some great melodies in the beginning and end of the latter. Additionally, this album does well is build ups, usually through interludes, to a groovy or melodic ending section. “Envy the Moon”, “Our Famine”, and “We Died in October” are all great examples of these.
What really surprised me was the new experimentation that can be found all over this album that provided all the differences that set this album apart from the rest of the discography. “I, The Polluter”, “Stars Serve Me”, and “We Died in October” showed some of the new progressive metal influenced tendencies in the melodies and riffing akin to bands like early Opeth, Witherscape, and In Mourning. The album also builds upon the black metal-esque influence found on ‘Winged Waltz’ with more tremolo picked melodies and progressions in songs like “Ongblick Av Nad” (the first October Tide song to be sung in Swedish), “Our Famine”, and “We Died in October”. There is also a noticeable post-metal influence, mainly in the interludes and soundscapes, of songs like “I, The Polluter”, “Seconds”, and “Stars Serve Me”. The biggest surprise on this album for me is the experimentation with dissonance, specifically on the songs “Ongblick Av Nad” and “Our Famine” where dissonant passages, akin to those found in dissonant leaning black metal or even Finnish death metal, can be found. The second biggest surprise on the album is how fast aggressive parts of the album were. “Envy the Moon” and “Guide My Pulse” both contain blast beats (although very brief in the former) while the latter, along with “Stars Serve Me”, are quite energetic in some passages. As for some minor differences, the vocals have a little more dynamic range with the deeper growled vocals to the raspier black metal-esque vocals. There’s also usage of spoken word and as well as vocal effects on the album.
‘In Splendor Below’ is not a perfect album, but it is an album that fans, old or new, will find something worth listening to. Some of the same issues I had with ‘Tunnel of No Light’ and “Winged Waltz” are still present. Even though there were some instances of dual guitar harmonies, the unrefined rhythmic sections, and stunted melodic passages are still present in the album which leaves the question of whether something more could have been done. Although the album may have reached similar melodic heights of the first three albums, ‘In Splendor Below’ still falls short in terms of memorability and frequency in melodic brilliance. Nonetheless, the album still shows stability and prowess with tracks like “I, The Polluter”, “Guide My Pulse”, “Seconds” and “Stars Serve Me” which are my standout tracks.
‘In Splendor Below’ is an enjoyable and promising album as it not only reflects the progress the band has made but also the band’s current state of affairs. Although the album still has its shortcomings, ‘In Splendor Below’ is an exciting album with moments of old brilliance and as well as new experimentations which could be a sign of better things to come.