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October Falls: The Plague of a Coming Age

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October Falls like to keep you guessing. The band was originally conceived and executed as the solo project of one M. Lehto, who gradually expanded the lineup to include a handful of musicians from other Finnish bands. The first few releases focused on acoustic, largely instrumental neo-folk, woven around themes of nature worship and bereft of the harsh black metal elements that surfaced later on. As the years passed and seasons changed, so did the songs Lehto wrote. He eventually altered his approach with 2007’s The Streams of the End EP, which abandoned the acoustic sound for a more metal-oriented approach. The music became more nuanced and refined, as gentle intros and interludes dovetailed nicely with the more inexorable dark metal passages (to employ the “dark metal” catchall in lieu of banging on about “melodic folk-influenced black/death/doom metal” forever). The album embraced his earliest influences, namechecking Katatonia and Opeth while borrowing bits of Agalloch, Empyrium, and early Ulver

It’s unwise to slap a band as mercurial as October Falls with overarching generalizations, so, as far as this particular album goes, there is a solid base of Finnish melodic death/doom a la Swallow the Sun underpinning the more recognizable black metal rasps and wistful folk– unsurprising, given the addition of Ensiferum bassist Sami Hinkka (formerly of Finnish death/doom greats Rapture) and drummer Marko Tarvonen of Moonsorrow/Barren Earth. Though October Falls has always been Lehto’s sole domain, it sounds as though his companions had a bit more of a say in the writing on this record. There is still plenty of black metal to be found here, but Lehto’s songwriting has matured and moved into solidly melodic territory. “Bloodlines” is a perfect example; the swinging main riff could have popped up on any Rapture album, and “Boiling Heart of the North” is a sad, dreamy waltz. The overall effect is of stateliness and melancholia, especially when Lehto chooses to indulge in atmospheric touches and acoustic instrumentation like the subdued piano lines and sounds of wind and rainfall scattered throughout.

Not all of Lehto’s forays into melody work well, though he manages to avoid falling totally flat. The title track hauls out some seriously 1990s goth metal vocals, and while his voice is pleasant enough, falling into a sonorous midrange , the whole exercise feels strained and overdone. The ragged howls that follow are much more effective, and are far more suited to the light-fingered dirge and apocalyptic lament of the song and the album itself. October Falls’ strength lies in the juxtaposition of those ferocious vocals with its pastoral, wintery requiems, and when that balance is overturned, the results lack charm.

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The positives of The Plague of a Coming Age outweigh this relatively minor quibble, though, and make for a satisfying listen. October Falls should be much more popular than they are; they should be sharing stages across the States with Paganfest bands, or at the very least, headlining small festivals in Germany and thrilling European crowds. Their music is finely tuned, beautifully composed, and an excellent example of how well this style of melodic, dark metal can be done. This is an album to return to on cold and lonesome evenings.

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