It’s been a while since a doom/death album graced my overloaded promo bin, and as a tried and true sad-boy, I was quite stoked to see October Tide‘s fifth album, Winged Waltz arrive. Formed by Katatonia ex-pats Fredrik Norrman and Jonas Renkse, the band has long made it their practice to take elements of early Katatonia material like Brave Murder Day and mix it with the classic doom/death of Rapture and early Paradise Lost. This led to some stunning moments and others that were inexplicably less inspiring. 20113s Tunnel of No Light was a typical October Tide album in most respects but felt less emotionally evocative and gripping. I was hoping for a bounce back to the form heard on albums like Rain Without End and A Thin Shell, but unfortunately, Winged Waltz suffers from many of the same issues as Tunnel. Are there good moments? Yes indeed, but the overall product is again missing that essential something that draws one deep into a doom death soundscape and makes them feel all that exquisitely sweet pain.
Opener “Swarm” gets the doom ball a rollin’ quite well though with the kind of glum theatrics common to Rapture and Swallow the Sun. Alexander Hogbom’s downcast death croaks are appropriately anguished and soul-sick, and the big doom riffs are adeptly balanced with weepy and trilling harmonies that decorate the depression tree like so much grief tinsel. This is the type of song October Tide excels at and usually hits out of the park, and they do exactly that here. Better still is album highlight “Sleepless Sun” which targets that sweet spot between Gothic era Paradise Lost and the best of Rapture‘s later catalog. It’s dreary and doomy but so melodic, it’s like a wondrous goth fantasy land of abject despair.
Both “Nursed by the Cold” and Lost in Rapture” succeed due to slick riffing designed to chill the soul paired with top-notch vocalizing from Alexander. Closer “Coffins of November” is also worthwhile, borrowing heavily from early Katontonia and effectuating a pleasant flow to the doomage. The problem is that the band can’t maintain this level of craftsmanship, and several songs feel flat and humdrum. While “Reckless Abandon” is much more aggressive and in-your-face, there’s something holding me back from completely buying into what the band is doing, despite them checking all the proper boxes for the style. Likewise, “A Question Ignite” is a pretty rote take on the doom/death genre with lots of simple riffing and unimaginative vocal patterns.
At 50 minutes, Winged Waltz feels a bit too long, though not unbearably so, and most of the songs are short enough to avoid tedium and drag. The production is more than adequate for what the band is going for and the guitars have a good heft and tone. Alexander is situated just right in the mix, neither lost in the woods or too far up in your face. The drums also have a satisfyingly warm and organic sound.
The star of the hour is definitely Alexander. His vocals are some of the best he’s done and he apparently came close to doing himself real physical harm while recording them. He definitely gives it his all as he carries the album’s emotional baggage on his stooped and care-worn shoulders. He often sounds like Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow the Proust) but never segues into clean singing, which admittedly creates a lack of diversity in approach. Fredrik Norrman and Emil Alstermark do some interesting things with their riffing and harmonies and incorporate some jarring, discordant sounds, but this is not their best outing in terms of captivating leads and memorable hooks and at times their playing feels too safe and restrained.
Winged Waltz is far from a bad October Tide album and there’s definitely quality to be found within. The problem is they’ve shown themselves capable of much more, so this ends up feeling like another slightly underwhelming release. Still, until Rapture reforms or the new In Mourning platter drops, this is a respectable way to wallow in misery, with or without company. Stay sad, my friends.