Flitting dark black at its rounded edges, as if losing sunlight in the drowned-dead underwater tunnel vision beneath a sun filled day, the hallucinatory aspect of the sogginess created at the depths of chemically unrepentant depression vibrates in unison with the slowed — but heaviest beating heart. From neck to chest to stomach and towards the temple’s strain, anxietous ruin intensifies within a body that would fear its own warmth could boil or, that the cold of the world would turn every eye upon it and disapprove. Murder, suicide, loss of control and the silent beating that addiction often provides in unison all collapse overhead brick after brick and, despite the detritus falling down in the hole around you, you sink deeper towards an imagined stasis. The lowest point of today. Aching as you wake, shaken by the watery grip of torpor as the growing pains of life offer no quarter. You, the prisoner will make the best of it admiring the old claw marks of your younger years, marveling at your mural phase before quickly sinking deeper, damned by the solitude of the imagery. You the prisoner begin to delight in your own echoing cries up the walls towards the light, knowing your next visit is only temporary and that this shall never pass. You, the ghost that’d haunt the walking day mourning lost love, lost life, passed opportunity, and of ruined mind are among so many growing in numbers that’d never know it. Here we commune, ‘In Splendor Below’, where the sweetly dark vibrations of Stockholm, Sweden based melodic death/doom metal legends October Tide spill masterful sermon an ultimate cathartic purgation as they have for decades.
As melodic death metal became the only way forward for the bulk of Swedish death metal bands facing the glut of hangers-on, Fredrik Norrman‘s (yet underrated) death metal band Uncanny had dissolved by 1994 just beyond the release of their debut full-length. Kennet Englund would move onto the poorly advised Dellamorte and Norrman would famously team up with Katatonia that same year to replace the guy from Therion‘s music video for “The Beauty in Black”. This was a fruitful event that’d see Jonas Renske and Norrman having an admiral songwriting breakthrough while Anders Nyström was busied between Bewitched‘s first demo and Diabolical Masquerade‘s debut album, both recorded in 1995. The duo would record ‘Rain Without End’ as October Tide and then shelve it for whatever reason, then continue work on what was essentially a follow-up (‘Brave Murder Day’) that’d see record and release with the full trio in 1996. The eventual release of ‘Rain Without End’ in 1997 and the The Cure-meets-Death metal approach of ‘Brave Murder Day’ were enormous breakthroughs for the visibility of melodic death/doom metal and heavily influential releases for extreme doom metal in general. With even melodic death metal on its way to severe Scandinavian boredom and tasteless cheese by the late 90’s Katatonia would self-destruct until agreeing to become a gothic rock influenced metal band sans death metal. October Tide would briefly sustain beyond with the quickly forgotten ‘Grey Dawn’ (1999) and then vanish under the weight of Katatonia‘s massive success beyond that point. The answer to ‘What if…?’ in terms of Katatonia remaining death metal were always a bit pointless considering their success otherwise.
Many bands would come with new versions of this sound and begin to cross and blur the lines between dark metal, melodic death/doom metal and even funeral doom metal but it has always been difficult to say that any one project had ever outshined or even merely recreated what ‘Rain Without End’ had. A decade later, and a decade ago, ‘Night is the New Day’ was the cut-off point for Norrman in Katatonia and October Tide had been surprisingly revived. ‘A Thin Shell’ (2010) was a professional, polished melodic death/doom metal album delivered without any particular conviction that really felt like a set of studio musicians performing Norrman‘s songs. ‘Tunnel of No Light’ (2013) saw new membership including vocalist Alexander Högbom (Demonical, Spasmodic, ex-Volturyon) and Mattias Norrman (ex-Dellamorte) who’d also left Katatonia around 2009. This would prove to be an inspiring moment for the band that’d recapture some of the magic of early October Tide for an album that I’d consider the most devastating (in a good way) of their discography. There was nothing particularly wrong with ‘Winged Waltz’ (2016) but it didn’t seem to resonate with fans because the first several tracks were very similar and none of it was particularly moving. For ‘In Splendor Below’ Mattias has moved to second guitar with fantastic results and they’ve swapped out the rhythm section for two members of progressive djent-core band Letters From the Colony. Though it does suffer from some of the relative sameness of ‘Winged Waltz’ this is no doubt the heaviest and most guitar centric record from October Tide since ‘Tunnel of No Light’.
As a fan since roughly 1998 who would lapse in and out of interest with each release it becomes difficult to connect with an artist like October Tide primarily because there are a hundred bands that have their old sound down to a science and sometimes with more feeling. They’re lucky enough to have kept that recognizable legacy alive but it seems like each record is a gamble in terms of how much it resembles the expectations that come with Swedish melodic death/doom metal style. None of that resemblance is too important but the expectation of sorrowful, heavy death/doom metal with lead guitars providing much of the melodic interest is the key point of interest. ‘In Splendor Below’ delivers this as ‘Tunnel of No Light’ did, and provides as brutal and depressive an experience as that record with similarly spacious production values. “I, the Polluter” kicks things off in perfect form, meeting those expectations and fully resembling Norrman‘s signature layers of gloom and romantically meandering guitar work. Side A builds towards the intense peak of “Stars Starve Me” and I’d say everything about that first side resembles the finest points of October Tide‘s discography thanks in no small part to the dual guitar work that provides strong framework for each song. Side B starts off with a couple of songs that only serve to adequately fill space this doesn’t slight the album’s full listen but does add to the already building feeling of sameness between compositions. Thankfully two very strong pieces, “Seconds” and “Envy the Moon” round out the full listen without appearing completely out of ideas. Though I think old fans will enjoy this sixth October Tide full-length, if you felt that ‘Winged Waltz’ lacked variation then you’ll likely feel the same about this one at face value.
Though the resuscitation of October Tide in 2009 wasn’t immediately redeeming their output has been consistent and affecting across the majority of their four full-lengths since Normann reformed the band, ‘In Splendor Below’ delivers their signature sound with a revived focus on guitar driven compositions and the full listen is all the better for it. I can highly recommend it because I feel it meets the relatively high standards of professionalism and distinct songwriting the band is known for though, I’d caution uninitiated fans that their focus intentionally provides a sort of depressive tunnel vision that manifests as variations on a theme in most cases. The value of the record will vary without the desired effect. For preview I found the two singles, “I, The Polluter” and “Our Famine”, were generally representative of the full listen but my own preference would include “Seconds” and “Stars Starve Me” as well.
Breaking with the dawn. 3.75/5.0
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