October Tide - In Splendor Below review

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Band: October Tide
Album: In Splendor Below
Release date: May 2019

01. I, The Polluter
02. We Died In October
03. Ögonblick Av Nåd
04. Stars Starve Me
05. Our Famine
06. Guide My Pulse
07. Seconds
08. Envy Of The Moon

Fredrik Norrman's pet project is back again with another solid effort. Did October Tide finally release an album worthy of comparison to Rain Without End?

In short: No, they did not. While their debut album benefits from a cult-like revisionist praise, serving as the unattainable standard all future material is judged by, it still boasts an almost youthful energy and clarity that every album since has failed to replicate. This isn't a scathing indictment of the band's level of innovation or anything like that, but it would be ignorant to overlook the importance of what's considered by most to be a landmark release in the death-doom scene. With that said, In Splendor Below is still its own album -- a statement album of sorts -- arranged with a fresh lineup, and deserves to be analyzed for its own merits, or lack thereof.

An immediate positive to make note of is the clear and driving bass lines, often shaping the foundation of songs (as heard on "We Died In October", for instance) and adding a distinct heaviness to the sharp, elongated melodies. This isn't a new feature, as October Tide releases are notably bass-forward particularly in its current rendition, but this time around the bass is given an added touch of love in the mixing process. Alexander Högbom continues on the mic in typical fashion, growling and roaring his way just like he does with his other reformed Swedish metal band, Centinex. His depth and pitch are nearly perfect, audible and clean as if polished by diamond scrubbers, which makes finding fault in his delivery seem biased, but the lack of individuality or passion in his voice takes away much of what doom is all about. His carbon copy style is safe and "radio" friendly (in terms of mainstream metal) but it doesn't suit the emotionally charged music well at all.

Now if you're worried that all this focus on bass and vocals means the guitars take a back seat on this album, fear not. The Norrman brothers both offered up their axes to the fellowship, carrying the album with an abundance of sorrowful melodies and progressive-tinged riffs reminiscent of early Opeth at times, though not quite as adventurous in their travels. They still make it a worthwhile journey, visiting feelings of introspection, remorse, solitude, and a bittersweet sense of longing, but none of these eight songs seem to be able to break free of their chains and really let loose. It's a bit of a tease in that regard, with all these interludes and setups paving the way for experimental breaks in the mold only for the momentum to cease before reaching its ultimate height. It's painstakingly obvious that they're gifted musicians when they're pushing riffs and melodies beyond the simple straightforward doom and gloom plodding, but they also have a strong tendency for staying in their lane instead of going grandiose and nailing a quick solo or switching up the pace even if only for a few moments.

This is the fourth album by October Tide since returning from their 10-year breakup, and yet they still don't offer up enough material combined to compete with their 1997 debut marker despite Fredrik Norrman leaving Katatonia. It's a pretty harsh sentiment to voice, but this modern era seems like a recycled riff dumping ground with incomplete ideas and half-focused concepts mashed together, sometimes resulting in a satisfying overall experience, other times miring the listener in an inescapable boredom. Thankfully this release in particular features more of the ideas and less of the boredom, but its restrictive nature will only leave you wanting more. It's like dating the most attractive girl in school but she only lets you hug her and kiss her cheek and no matter how much you want for there to be another level, you just have to accept that she just isn't ready yet. Maybe October Tide are just holding out on us for some grand finale.

It's difficult to say whether there's a lack of self-awareness of maybe a self-indulgent stubbornness to continue or something imperceptible from an outside view, but even at their best, such as with this album, October Tide never really live up to expectations beyond "good", "solid", "consistent" -- all positive attributes, but mediocre in light of context. Unless you're legitimately expecting a true follow-up to Rain Without End, this won't be a letdown as much as it is just another number to add in the catalog of a band seemingly incapable of capturing the magic again.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 6
Originality: 5
Production: 10


Written on 06.10.2019 by Just another opinionated guy telling you what to listen to.

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