October Tide – In Splendor Below
1. I, the Polluter
Label: Agonia Records
First thing I can say is that one can hardly start an October Tide review without mentioning Katatonia at least once. The most obvious reasons for this are historical connections between these two bands and sound similarities, of which I will speak later on.
First of all, October Tide started out as a side project of Katatonia members Fredrik Norrman and Jonas Renkse in 1994. They recorded their first album a year later during Katatonia’s first hiatus, but that album was released two years after that under the title “Rain Without End”. In 1999, they’ve recorded and released their second album “Grey Dawn” featuring Mårten Hansen (A Canorous Quintet) on vocals. Shortly after the album’s release Norrman and Renkse decided to shut down the project to focus on Katatonia as their priority.
Ten years later, Fredrik Norrman left Katatonia and decided to reactivate October Tide, but this time without co-founder Jonas Renkse. Instead he decided to hire Tobias Netzell on vocals, Robin Bergh on drums and Jonas Kjellgren as a session bassist, with whom he recorded the band’s third album “A Thin Shell”, which was released in 2010. In 2010, Emil Alstermark and Pierre Stam joined the band as guitarist and bassist respectively and the band played its first live shows, thus October Tide ceased being a project and became a full-fledged band. Two years later, after Netzell and Stam departed to focus on In Mourning, Fredrik was reunited with his brother, also an ex-Katatonia bandmate, Mattias Norrman, who joined as a bassist. At the same time the band’s current vocalist Alexander Högbom also joined and the band recorded its fourth album “Tunnel of No Light”, which was released in 2013. In 2015, Robin Bergh was replaced by Jocke Wallgren on drums and the band recorded its fifth album “Winged Waltz”, which was released a year later. Afterwards, Emil Alstermark left the band, which led Mattias to shift from bass to guitar, and Jocke Wallgren departed for Amon Amarth. At that time the band was joined by Letters from the Colony members Johan Jönsegård on bass and Jonas Sköld on drums, who also plays with Fredrik and Mattias in Thenighttimeproject. This year the band have released their sixth album “In Splendor Below”, which is the main topic of this review.
After a long history, now it’s time to look into the musical side of things. First obvious influence that can be heard on this album is Katatonia, which shows how crucial Fredrik Norrman’s role was in establishing Katatonia’s signature sound, despite Katatonia being first and foremost Anders Nyström’s and Jonas Renkse’s band. I have no doubt many people will say that this is what Katatonia would sound like if they haven’t gone for more approachable alternative/progressive rock sound and they would be right for the most part. With this album October Tide still sticks to its characteristic melodic doom/death metal sound, but also leaves space for adding new elements to their sound. The first new thing that can be noticed is that the band this time went for a more stylised logo, instead of their usual lowercase logo. This new logo looks a lot more like a logo for a black metal band, than for a death/doom band, so the first thing that comes to mind is that the band went for a more blackened direction. Black metal influences have been always present in the vocals, which range from deeper guttural growls to higher pitched screams characteristic for black metal. The most obvious example of this is “I, the Polluter”, in which the vocals are very reminiscent of Shagrath from Dimmu Borgir. There are also many progressive influences, which add even more atmosphere to their already atmospheric sound. All of this highlights the band’s obvious connection with Katatonia.
However, October Tide doesn’t use any clean vocals, because all the tracks on this album are heavy with very dark and gloomy atmosphere. There aren’t any ballads or any semi ballads on this album either, which sets them apart from their other contemporaries Swallow the Sun. Except for the already mentioned influences, there is another influence that snuck into this album and that is Paradise Lost. Firstly, because Högbom’s growled vocals are very similar to those of Nick Holmes and secondly, because of some similar song structures, most apparently in “Our Famine” and “Envy the Moon”. And there are also some tracks that can be described as a mix of Katatonia, Paradise Lost and also Opeth, among which are “Guide My Pulse” and “Seconds”. It feels like the band drew a lot of inspiration from their influences, but still managed to make the album different and interesting in its own way.
This release shows that October Tide still manages to deliver interesting albums of very high quality. As Fredrik Norrman was one of the key factors in Katatonia’s sound development, it was expected that he will bring a lot of elements from Katatonia into October Tide, which Katatonia fans might find appealing. However, October Tide still finds a way to make their albums as diverse as possible, which show that the band had developed an identity of their own. The way they mix a classic death/doom approach with modern influences makes them one of the most interesting death/doom bands today, so even if you are not a Katatonia fan, this album and this band are still worth checking out.