If it feels like an absolute age since we last had a release from doom metal pioneers October Tide then that’s because it is. Eleven years is not just a long time in the music business, its several generations. In the rapidly changing world of heavy metal, it can feel like an aeon. It’s therefore both a huge pleasure and welcome relief to see a new release from the creative minds of Frederick Normann (ex-Katatonia) and co.
Last year, the reissue of October Tide’s debut album Rain Without End added to the reputation that the band has consistently enjoyed in underground metal circles. Many bands could not survive an extended break between records (Guns ‘n’ Roses probably the most notorious example) but , if anything, the break has enabled the band not just to refine the basics of their complex sound but enhance it, extend it and deliver us a record of nuanced beauty.
On first listen, A Thin Shell appears standard template doom metal. However, on repeated plays, the record gives up its dark and subtle textures.
A Custodian of Science sets the tone and pace for the rest of the record beautifully. Mournful vocals, complex guitar work and a structured song-writing that both reflects the band’s heritage and influences but extends them and redefines what’s possible for a genre that can at first glance appear rigid and dogmatic.
There’s plenty of what you would expect here- deep and rumbling vocals, thunderous drums and screeching guitars. There are also musical flourishes that you perhaps wouldn’t. In much the same way that Ihsahn used the saxophone to enhance his own artistic vision on this year’s After, the use of the bongo drum on instrumental Nighttime Project adds additional colour and a little sense of fun amongst the dark and circling gloom.
In its slow and mid tempo pomp A Thin Shell reminds the listener of Swallow the Sun; The Dividing Line and Scorned being great examples of this. However, as the record erupts in its sonic chaos, there are shades of Opeth and, perhaps not unexpectedly, Katatonia.
There are so many moods and emotions packed into the seven tracks here that writing about all of them would unfairly suggest that the band have just thrown everything in without thinking of the listener. On the contrary, the record is beguiling, often hypnotic and there is coherence and a dark aesthetic underpinning all the tracks that are richly rewarding after each listen.
Nearly all the songs here are lengthy expositions, but don’t let that be a sign of criticism; on the contrary, they all are designed to be lived in as well as lived with and are all the better for having being given the space and time to breathe and occupy your mind.
In Europe, winter is coming. For homes where A Thin Shell will be the soundtrack, those long dark nights might not seem so long after all. Welcome back, gentlemen.
written by Mat Davies