(DGR reviews the new album by the Swedish band October Tide, which was released on May 17th by Agonia Records.)
In Splendor Below is a very different album from its predecessors. Since reforming and releasing A Thin Shell in 2010, October Tide have kept to a pretty steady release schedule of every three years, with the most recent album prior being 2016’s Winged Waltz. Since that time the group have added two of the gentlemen from Letters From The Colony in their midst, picking up the rhythm section while the Norrman brothers stay on guitar and vocalist Alexander Högbom sticks around to deliver the deep-throated and anguished yells that have become a staple of the band since his first appearance on Tunnel Of No Light.
While there is a definite sense of lineup familiarity in place, the death metal atmospherics and groove that have worked their way into the group’s sound between the release of Winged Waltz and now are certainly new. Guitarist Fredrick Norrman was quoted in the press release for thier Our Famine lyric video describing the album as “a bit more aggressive, a bit more death metal, and with an overall colder feeling than previous records.” And that feeling makes itself apparent immediately.
It actually isn’t until three songs in that you’ll hit your first six-minute crawler of a song from the band, and a decent chunk of In Splendor Below stays within the four-to-five minute range, reflecting the new speed at which the band operate.
The opening moments of “I, The Polluter” make that even more evident as it lays the groundwork for the first few songs of In Splendor Below to build upon. It has been a long time since the group have made themselves known so immediately in their songs, but “I, The Polluter” is a different style of opening track for them, built around a massive and heaving groove that arrives soon after the opening eerie guitar melody fades away. It continually reappears, dancing in and out of the song while the more rhythm-focused segment of the band hammers out a viciously catchy headbanging riff — so much so, that the distinct groove of the song can easily win out over that eerie guitar melody for getting stuck in your head, appealing more to the primal and caveman aspect of heavy metal listenings.
It’s from the groundwork laid out by “I, The Polluter” that the following two songs, “We Died In October” and “Ögonblick av nåd”, are built. It only took the October Tide crew seven albums to finally reference the month of October in a song title, interesting in part as it serves as something of a song-title prequel to the closing track of Winged Waltz, “Coffins Of November”. “We Died In October” is a little more of a familiar hunting ground for October Tide, still a shorter song but a hybrid of the album’s opener and the more familiar crawls through the cold and miserable atmosphere that have become the October Tide trademark. “We Died In October” wins out on the guitar front first as it buries the listener in multiple layers of echoing melody while the lyrics over-top request, “Emptiness, walk with me”.
“Ögonblick av nåd” is a different monster entirely. It is the only song sung in another language, which is an interesting turn, and it is also one of the most straightforward-heavy songs on In Splendor Below. “Ögonblick av nåd” starts out heavy, fueled by a driving and powerful rhythm section that never lets up, and guitar work that is just as happy to shift between chugging groove and multiple leads that spiral further into the cold and doomed world, with vocals delivered at near rapid-fire pace (for October Tide) and containing an absolutely massive howl about halfway into the song — right when it finally chooses to let off the pedal for a bit.
On the classic doom-heavy side of the spectrum, October Tide remain a force to be reckoned with. The band are old hats on this front, yet songs like “Stars Starve Me”, “Our Famine”, “Seconds”, and “Envy The Moon” — the slower songs on the disc — all just continue to add to the band’s reputation. They all come in the back half of the disc, creating a sort of listening momentum where In Splendor Below starts fast and then begins to slowly let its pace crawl, favoring gorgeous atmosphere over its initial aggressive opening assault.
The one outlier to this is the late-appearing “Guide My Pulse”, which for the most part is a mid-tempo stomp that turns into a slowly freezing melodeath song with a sudden and short blast section in its back half. “Guide My Pulse” arrives after the anguish of “Stars Starve Me”, a song which whiplashes between an absolutely gorgeous and slow lead-guitar-driven opening and the death metal grooves of the opening few songs of the album. “Stars Starve Me” also contains a powerful and hard-driving chorus, one which actually has something of a twin in “Guide My Pulse”‘s straight-ahead rhythms.
“Our Famine”, which is the follow-on to “Stars Starve Me”, is the first really recognizable older-style October Tide song on In Splendor Below. It’s where the album really starts to drag itself through the mud, reveling in its own misery and slowly pulling away from the surprising amount of headbanging-groove in the album’s opening half.
As mentioned above, In Splendor Below is a different sort of album for October Tide. After three discs of beautiful yet unrelenting misery, the band shift gears a bit from their funeral doom expertise and in the process have created one of the fastest-moving albums they’ve created. The music maintains its focus on the dour and frozen, yet the energy within the eight songs here is exciting. There’s plenty to discover if you love the band at their slowest and most outwardly expressive of whatever lyrical pain the songs require, yet the multitude of moments where you can just nod along to it makes it a more thrilling-at-first-listen sort of experience.
Whereas their previous albums have all had beautiful and cold atmospheres with plenty of slow-moving dirges to remind you of the group’s doom pedigree, October Tide stretch those boundaries a bit on In Splendor Below and have made one of their most dynamic albums to date, one that could easily win some people over who may not have enjoyed the band’s slower-moving tempos from before. In Splendor Below is the sort of album where there is so much to discover within. The initial experience is one of almost uncontrollable headbanging to the album’s driving rhythms, and yet each dive-in afterwards has led to discoveries of the multitude of different and interwoven melodic lines throughout each of the songs and how they tend to dance just above the more primal moments of the disc, creating that cold atmosphere that has long become an October Tide hallmark.