It's been roughly four-and-a-half years since Swedish melodic doom/death metal quintet October Tide put out their sixth monstrous collection, 2019's In Splendor Below. Considering how accomplished and likable it was, there's been little reason to doubt that its successor would maintain that enjoyability and direction whenever it arrived. Indeed, The Cancer Pledge is another strong release, as it upholds its predecessor's quality and delivers virtually everything fans of the group and genre could want.
Unsurprisingly, The Cancer Pledge features the same line-up as In Splendor Below, with ex-Katatonia guitarist Fredrik "North" Norrman still leading the charge. While still possessing shades of their doomy beginnings, the record finds them dialing back on that feature in favor of "throw[ing] the listener in a colder embrace of melodic death metal rainstorm." As Norrman explains: "It's a direct continuation of the previous album. Less doom and more death metal, yet melodic and with more layers. I've searched for inspiration in records I listened to in the 80's and 90's when I grew up. But it still sounds like October Tide." Even Karl Daniel Lidén returned for mixing and mastering, helping preserve everything that worked well about In Splendor Below.
Listeners looking for unwavering and direct viciousness will find plenty of that here, as the ironically titled opener—"Peaceful, Quiet, Safe"—confirms. Following an ominous and tense instrumental build-up, vocalist Alexander Högbom brings his usual brand of utterly horrific and grimy growls. Aside from some atmospheric textures and occasional moody lulls, it sustains its in-your-face pacing and vehemence until the very end. As such, it's a thrilling confirmation that October Tide have returned as brutal as ever.
Most of the remaining sequence stays true to that promise, with standouts including the periodically feistier and thrashier "Blodfattig" and the thunderously scorned "I Know Why I'm Cold." Although it's easy for the most straightforward tunes to blend together when listening to the whole disc in one casual playthrough, each is nuanced enough to stand out upon more focused listening sessions.
What's more, there's a commendable amount of sophisticated—if not progressive—changeups along the way. For instance, "Tapestry of Our End" and "Breathe the Water" feature black metal-esque dirges that are as melodically enticing as they are refreshing. Later, "Unprecedented Aggression" and "Season of Arson" see drummer Jonas Sköld shifting around some truly challenging yet playful syncopation (with the rest of the band keeping up expertly). There's also the delightfully brooding and epically dynamic title track, whose intoxicatingly mournful six-string wails and riffs are a highlight of the whole experience.
Fans hoping that The Cancer Pledge would mark another bold step forward for October Tide may be a tad letdown, as it very much feels like In Splendor Below Pt. 2. As noted above, though, that's precisely what Norrman and company aimed to achieve, so it's immensely successful when viewed through that lens. Either way, October Tide clearly have a great handle on their current sound, so while more variety and adventurousness would surely improve The Cancer Pledge, it's already pretty damn good.