Summer is coming slowly to New York, and it seems to rain every day lately, keeping a grey, overcast shroud over the Empire State. That means the time is as right as it will be until October for a new October Tide opus of melancholy melodeath. Album number six In Splendor Below sees Katatonia expats Fredrik and Mattias Norrman sporting a new, more illegible logo, and a bit more of a blackened edge at times, but otherwise it’s business as usual for theses purveyors of gloom. Their output still sounds like a mix of early Katatonia and Rapture, and aims to hit that downcast sadboy sweet spot. When it all comes together, their recipe can result in some atmospheric and depressive bounty. However, the band has struggled over the years to reach the same heights that their early output did, and their compositions can sometimes feel a bit generic and bland. They’re always a band I root for though, and I dove into In Splendor Below with the usually high expectations.
Things open on an interesting note with “I, the Polluter” and its decidedly blackened approach to depressive melodeath. The Katatonia meets early Peaceville days vibe is still there but offset by blackened flourishes and Alexander Högbom’s newly evil rasps. It almost sounds like Dimmu Borgir stripped of symphonics and slowed to a crawl at times, and it makes for an interesting turn. The song manages an effective blend of mood and heaviness and it stands apart from the usual October Tide output. “We Died in October” quickly returns things to the expected sound, with morose, trilling leads and a blend of Novembers Doom and Katatonia once again ascendant. This is the kind of stuff I expect from the band and it’s well done and suitably bleak. Music for grey days. The high point comes with “Stars Starve Me” and its heavy Rapture influence. Though there isn’t anything new under the washed out sun, the band excels at these kinds of weepy, sadboy mood pieces and this is them at or near their best. The way the despairing guitar noodling and despondent harmonies play off the booming death roars is well executed and emotionally imposing and makes me crave a whole album of material at this level of craftsmanship.
Also quite good is “Guide My Pulse” which cleaves close to Slumber and Rapture in ways that force me to get on board. It’s downcast but aggressive, with forceful death vocals that keep things grounded and heavy amid the melancholy noodling and doomy harmonies. “Seconds” is more of their tried-and-true recycling of Brave Murder Day, but over the course of its 7 minutes, the band incorporates a good amount of Opethian tricks and tropes as well for a good end product. Not every song clicks however, and numbers like “Ögonblick av nåd” and “Our Famine” bounce off my ears unless I’m intensely focused on them, despite the interesting Dark Tranquillity hints in the latter’s cold, isolated vibe. They just lack a certain memorability and though I never feel a need to skip them, I don’t need to hear them either.
The biggest problem with In Splendor Below is its tendency to become background-y unless you are giving it a very focused listen. The songs tend to bleed together, especially on the back-end, and my attention is faltering before the album is a third of the way through its 44 minutes. It’s never unpleasant but it isn’t always exciting. Performance-wise, Alexander Högbom does a fine job, his death roars are deep and imposing and his forays into blackened rasps work well too. The guitar-work by Fredrik and Mattias Norrman is solid and often emotional, but the riffs don’t always stick or feel memorable. They’re at their best crafting pretty but sad harmonies and those are almost always first-rate. The knock is that they don’t always lead to memorable songs, and that’s the case here, as it has been on their past few outings.
In Splendor Below is an inconsistent but pleasant enough listen with a few fairly impressive cuts and others that feel a tad underwhelming. It’s the kind of solid album you wish was a bit better, but that’s par for the course with October Tide‘s career arc overall. Long story short: You can definitely get your sads on here, but this is unlikely to make many end of year lists.