Let’s get it out of the way now – October Tide will be forever suffixed with the ‘that band with the old guitarist from Katatonia’ tag which always renders reviewing their material a challenge for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is no mere follow-up project (their ‘Rain Without End’ debut was released way back in 1997 for example), October Tide being a credible, standalone live band for a fair few years now. Secondly, it’s clear that upon leaving Katatonia, Fred Norrman has divested the full weight of his creative energies into October Tide and clearly desires the band to be appreciated in its own right.
This is completely understandable – however, it cannot be denied that the shadow of ‘that’ band looms large throughout these works. It’s in no small part to Norrman’s distinctive guitar approach – those plaintive leads and disconsolate melodies are at once thrilling and familiar – but October Tide also paint in similarly monochromatic, depressive hues. What they do do though is take it further into realms of doom-laden despondency, ploughing weighty furrows that Katatonia have long since abandoned.
Much as with 2013’s ‘Tunnel of no Light’, October Tide root their material quite firmly within the territory of melodic doom-death metal. There’s not a whisper of clean vocal on this record – Alexander Hogbom delivers an uncompromising roar throughout – whilst there are some sections of serious heavyweight chuggy riffing (check out the main riff of ‘Reckless Abandon’ for a prime example).
For all the atmosphere of disquiet, this is a very metal album – there are plenty of ‘proper’ riffs scattered across songs such as ‘Nursed by the Cold’ and punchy opener ‘Swarm’. It’s the details – and those aforementioned sonorous lead guitar motifs – that really lift the record however. The funeral refrain that chimes across ‘Sleepless Sun’ weeps pure woe and the clean interpretation of it that closes the track is wonderful – indeed, it really reminds this scribe of the closing decrescendo of Isis’s ‘Altered Course’.
Later on, the build and climax of ‘Perilous’ works wonderfully, escalating the track to the point whereby it segues nicely into the finale of ‘Coffins of November’, the whole one-two bearing a real whiff of early Paradise Lost at this stage – almost like a 2016 version of ‘Gothic’ with some nicely plaintive lead motifs.
It’s not obvious stuff – these songs take work and time to unfurl and perhaps, in some ways, are victims of their own introspective intricacy. I have a nagging suspicion that October Tide’s quest to forge something involved and morose has inadvertently led them to neglect that most crucial of musical entities – hooks. For whilst ‘Winged Waltz’ sports plenty of darkness, doleful beats, chiming clean guitars and grinding chugs, there is a vague sense of something missing. Whisper it, but for all the good work going on here, it’s simply not that exciting or memorable.
There’s certainly much to admire about ‘Winged Waltz’ – nuanced writing, good sound and a convincing atmosphere – however, to these ears, it’s just lacking that little ‘wow’ factor to help the record truly stand out. All the same, a decent release.
(7.5/10 Frank Allain)