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Although I’ve always considered “Rain Without End” as heavily overrated and “Grey Dawn” as heavily underrated, I very much enjoyed both records when they were released. Needless to say that I was pleasantly excited when I heard that October Tide were going to release another album after more than ten years of silence.
And sadly, I was pretty much disappointed.
Let’s start with the good things. The sound is excellent. While remaining transparent, it is very rich and powerful: The guitars create a crushing wall and are effectively supported by the bass in the deeper frequencies. The drums are recorded and mixed flawlessly.
Vocal wise, Tobias Netzell (In Mourning) does a pretty decent job here. While others compare him to Renkse on the debut album, I find his voice more powerful, however also pretty monotonous. Furthermore, I had the feeling I was listening to In Mourning all the time. I guess this is not always avoidable, but I didn’t get this feeling when Åkerfeld gave his voice to “Brave Murder Day” or Renkse sung as a guest on Long Distance Calling’s “Nearing Grave”. I don’t know, I want a band to provide me with a unique selling point (so to speak), so I can say “Yes, I am definitely listening to October Tide”, but unfortunately they are just not able to do this on “A Thin Shell”.
But the real problem is the following:
The music leaves me strangely unaffected here. I only realized the first song was over because of the 2 second break of silence before the next. It was like “Oh … it’s over?” and absolutely nothing that had happened during the previous seven minutes remained in my mind. The same happened after the second, the third and the fourth track, and so on and so on. While the material improves a little on the second half of the record, there is just not enough happening to raise or keep my attention.
Most of the time we have one of the guitars playing a melody (a quasi lead) while the second one plays the accompanying chords as the rhythm section. This is not a bad approach and also exercised by many other doom bands, including Katatonia on “Brave Murder Day” or the very same October Tide on previous efforts. But for this approach you need a) some very strong, intriguing and captivating melodies and b) don’t repeat the same procedure on every single song of the record.
In my humble opinion, I find that the songs are awfully interchangeable and the melodies are totally uninspired and insipid. It’s not that they’re bad, but they are definitely not good either. I’d expect some killer material for a comeback album after more than 10 years. We reach the pinnacle of uninspired-ness on the totally superfluous, boring instrumental interlude “The Nighttime Project” which is track 3 on the record. After several listening sessions giving the record another chance, hoping that it would finally ignite the spark inside me, this track always left me with the question “Why would I ever want to listen to this again?” It’s so long and bloated and absolutely NOTHING happens. Speaking of bloated, I think that every single song could be about 2 minutes shorter.
Also, as concerns diversity, there is not enough variation in the songs apart from the good old distorted guitars versus clean guitars parts. All the songs are more or less in the same pace, and with the previously mentioned interchangeable melodies, the listening experience becomes even more tedious and -yes- boring. I know, I know: We have a doom/death release here and I can’t expect blast beats, but at least some up/mid tempo beats to relieve from the same dragging slow doom beat please. Is this too much to ask for?
To sum up: Disappointingly October Tide are not able to provide us with a compelling comeback album and a strong addition to their discography after more than ten years. The sound is rich and powerful and all artists do a decent job on their instruments, but the songwriting and the whole material is too uninspired and insipid to captivate the listener’s attention.
In my opinion, this album is one of the greatest I've (personally) ever listened to. I never thought that I'd be so captivated by an album with such a powerful and depressing atmosphere and yet here I sit typing this review. For a comeback album, you have to give these guys the credit they deserve, because after 11 years of waiting the fans are rewarded with such a brilliant composition that the 11 year gap has now shrunk to such a miniscule size that I immediately forgot about.
"A Custodian Of Science" is definitely the highlight track of the album. I love the atmospheric guitar solos that appear every now and then (my favourite is the first one before Tobias Netzell growls "So tell me now...") and Fred Norrman is brilliant when it comes to them and the other riffs in the song. The drum work is solid and really gives the album the percussive atmosphere any other album should deserve, and Robin Bergh should be proud of his efforts. Tobias Netzell was definitely the perfect vocalist for this album, his growls occasionally swapping between low and high-pitched to really keep in tune with the music to make sure that he should be praised for his fantastic efforts on the microphone.
It's great to see that despite his departure from Katatonia, Fred Norrman hasn't lost any of his musical talent, nor his ability to compose a good song (or 7 in the case of this album!). However, despite my complete positivity of the album, my only bone to pick with the album is the fact that they made "The Nighttime Project" an instrumental track, as I really thought some of Netzell's growls would have made that song perfect, but the fact remains that they are not present and thus I'm afraid cannot award the album overall full marks, however I will say full marks is awarded to the band for effort and production quality.
If I haven't made it clear already, then I'll say that this album really is tops for its genre and I hope that in the future October Tide will continue making music like this. It really is melodic death/doom metal at its finest and I wholeheartedly recommend this album to anyone who is interested in Katatonia's old stuff, death/doom music in general, and anyone who fancies a nice, depressing dirge.
It seems that October Tide's awakening was mostly overshadowed by other reunions or new albums from long-defunct bands around the time "A Thin Shell" was dropped from Fredrick Norrman's cannon of melancholic sadness. Prior to this point, Norrman had crafted a short-lived legacy which barred some of doom/death metal's finest offerings, especially the essential "Rain Without End," a classic from point A to point B. "A Thin Shell" nevertheless carries the emotional burden as if October Tide never went to sleep in the first place, but this time featuring a new lineup recruited after Norrman's departure from Katatonia. The seven-sonnet masquerade is deep, riveting, and just as heavy and gloomy as October Tide's namesake.
Taking the massive amount of time between "A Thin Shell" and the last October Tide offering into consideration, it seems that few things have changed. The band still marches on with puncturing gaps of doom-influenced death metal cooked with clean guitars and catchy melodies used for that "saddening" feel. The songs are pretty formulaic, but I really can't complain with the provided materials. Norrman's guitar playing is pristine and attractive, his riffs crunchy yet forlorn and catchy in execution. The other members meet Norrman's chemistry with an equal amount of presence, especially the deep, unhallowed growls of In Mourning vocalist Tobias Netzell.
Not a whole lot separates the seven songs, but October Tide successfully pulls off their dark landscape regardless. "A Custodian of Science" begins October Tide's dive into depression with slow-roasted riffs spread over a melodic lead and Netzell's ground-shattering voice; it's steady doom/death metal just the way you like it. "Deplorable Request" is easily one of the best songs this band has ever written, its beefy chorus and electric groove shining under a darkened theme of pain from the past, another powerful slice. "The Nighttime Project" substitutes the rupturing might for a strange acoustic number which feels drippy and oddly mechanical. The other four tracks are a bit lacking compared to the monstrous tunes which bring light to this opus, but I'm still void of negative things to say overall.
You could consider "A Thin Shell" a standard example of doom/death metal. After all, it kind of is. Nevertheless, October Tide has made a decent return after years in a slumberous state, a feat that hardly occurs. The group's genetics are intact, yet the overall sound is thunderous and gloomy, and October Tide has defeated the odds after a decade of inactivity. Take "A Thin Shell" for what it is and you'll have a grand time with it.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
13 years have passed since October Tide's monumental melodic death/doom debut Rain Without End, and in the interim, the duo of Jonas Renkse and Fredrik Norrman have gone on to a huge career with their primary band Katatonia. Ironically, Norrman and his brother just quit in the winter of 2009, after the release of the excellent Night is the New Day, so decided to focus his efforts on getting this band back on its feet from its decade long slumber. Of course, he'll be doing it without Jonas Renkse this time, who remains in Katatonia. Nor is he doing this with Mårten Hansen, who replaced Jonas for the barely passable sophomore Grey Dawn in 1999.
Actually, the entire lineup, with the exception of Fredrik Norrman, is new to October Tide, if not new to the Swedish scene in general. Tobias Netzell of In Mourning handles the growling, and does a pretty smash up job of it, channeling the deep and full grunts of Renkse on the debut. Drummer Robin Bergh has been brought over from Amaran, Emil Alstermark on the second guitar, and session bass for A Thin Shell is provided by Jonas Kjellgren of Scar Symmetry, Centinex, and several other noted Swedish bands. Thankfully, the band heads straight back to the source of their initial momentum, the slow paced, beautiful melodies of Rain Without End. Grey Dawn, which was not a terrible album, but a dive down in quality, is ignored completely. This is to the band's advantage, as that sophomore was not held in very esteem, and if October Tide is bent on becoming a full time act as opposed to its initial Katatonia side project status, they should be providing their best doomed leg forward.
Like the debut, there are but seven compositions here, and all are solid, though I've developed a preference for the latter half of the album. "A Custodian of Science" comes out gunning with the unmovable chords and sailing melodies of Rain Without End, as if an apology for those years of absence, but it never quite develops any truly sticking riffs. Nevertheless, it's a tasteful balance of calm, clean guitars and roiling bass with crashing walls of melody, and certainly true to the band's M.O. "Deplorable Request" saunters along even more slowly, descending lines tailing off in the blunt chords, a little chugging for heaviness and a warmth in the note selection that merges well with Netzell's growling, joined here by a second, snarling vocal. "The Nighttime Project" is mellow and frightening, the best track up to this point, an instrumental with some memorable guitar lines that leads into the lurching "Blackness Devours", which surprisingly seems to have a little bit of stoner doom shoved into its lead-in groove.
Deeper still, "The Diving Line" provides a crash course in what made a Rain Without End or Katatonia's Brave Murder Day so divine, pretty much the perfect selection of notes, distant, echoed melodies dancing off against the elegance and power, and I adore the bridge riff here as it transforms from beautiful to eerie. "Fragile" returns to a lurching gait, but the chords are captivating, the leads just icing on the cake as it picks up to majestic, crashing heights, Netzell the very match of Renkse on the debut, if not better. "Scorned" closes the album as its most moody offering, guitars transforms sparse sheens of sonic, depressive rain while the beat rocks off minimally into the depth of ages, as if your lens were being slowly pulled away from the glass autumn globe on the cover as the winds of time begin to erase all happiness. Not the best song here, but a fitting finale to a fairly impressive return to form.
A Thin Shell allows us to forget the past decade, and perhaps even to forget Grey Dawn, because it's the natural sequel to Rain Without End that a lot of fans likely desired. It's certainly not as riffy as that debut, or rather, the guitars are not quite so strong, but the wonderful production creates a new depth to the procession which makes it emotionally potent. I often find myself drifting off to a lot of the melodic death/doom acts, and not in a good way. The same can be said for certain moments of this album, perhaps a part of "Scorned" or "Blackness Devours", but the rest serves as an attention holding lamentation. "The Nighttime Project", "The Dividing Line" and "Fragile" are the only true standouts, but as a whole it does not disappoint those who have been patient for its arrival.