For the longest time, the elephant in the room with Sweden’s harbingers of doom and gloom October Tide was that their identity as “the other band that guys from Katatonia play in” was hard to shake. Their first two albums were important for the melodic death/doom scene at its peak in the 90s, but it was hard to envision them as anything beyond Dance of December Souls 2.0 or Brave Murder Day Redux. It was only with 2010’s A Thin Shell that they came into their own identity, and 2013’s Tunnel of No Light, while still a good death/doom album that showed mature and tasteful songwriting, didn’t hold up much against bands like Daylight Dies. Their newest, Winged Waltz, however, is a very strong album that demonstrates the band’s growth in identity, songwriting, and band chemistry.
Since their respective “comeback” in 2010, October Tide have had a hell of a time maintaining a relatively consistent lineup. Fortunately, most of the core band from the past two albums are still intact here, with the exclusion of new drummer Jocke Wallgren (live for Amon Amarth, Valkyrja). It’s clear throughout Winged Waltz that the retention of the band’s core songwriters has had a positive effect on the songwriting: The album moves effortlessly through all sorts of terrain, from the tapped leads of “Sleepless Sun” to the driving, pounding verse riff of “Reckless Abandon” and the somber, funereal march of closing cut “Coffins of November.” The vocals of Alexander Högbom are terrific and more confident than ever, seamlessly switching from manic, forceful roars to abrasive higher screams and articulating every single line of the lyrics with incredible fervor and unrestrained passion. The guitars of Fredrik Norrman and Emil Astermark weave tapestries of ominous, seething melodies as well as scorched earth doom riffs and more nuanced clean sections decorated with echoing leads, most impressively on “Nursed by the Cold,” which patches together all the possible emotional arcs of death/doom metal into one song yet possesses a certain catchiness thanks to its driving chorus and memorable lead lines in the middle section.
On one hand, October Tide are well within the territorial guidelines for death/doom, and on surface listens, Winged Waltz won’t do much to stick out even with its polished production. The excellence of Winged Waltz, though, is within the fact that October Tide are so able to easily traverse all of the sonic possibilities of doom metal and never sound coerced of forced. Whereas most doom bands are content to gaze and drone and drag, there is a steady momentum on Winged Waltz and a refreshing amount of texture, both sonic and emotional. “Perilous” is particularly climactic during its midsection as a dissonant interval echoes over a crushing breakdown before retracing its steps to guitar harmonies and leads reminiscent of the band’s own Grey Dawn, and the performances of each band member highlight their skills both individually and collectively.
If there is one knock I have on Winged Waltz, it’s that its pristine production does rob some of the ferocity from the songs, and the band’s tendencies to stick to the same general tempo ranges makes some tracks blur together on the first few listens. All considered, though, Winged Waltz is probably October Tide’s best album thus far and certainly a litmus test for other doom/death releases to come later this year. Those looking for an emotional lift in your metal need not apply — Winged Waltz is certainly not a drag musically, but it explores varying shades of black, blue, and grey to leave you hollow by album’s end.
Winged Waltz will be released on 04.22.2016 via Agonia Records and is available for pre-order on CD, LP, and digital download. For more information on October Tide, visit their official website or Facebook page.