In 2022, San Francisco witnessed the sprouting of Octavian Winters, a post-punk ensemble with a flair for the theatrically gloomy. Their debut album, The Line or Curve, emerges from the misty depths of Stratis Capta Records. Imagine a sound that’s less about basking in the California sun and more about brooding in foggy graveyards. These folks blend the bleak with the beautiful by conjuring an atmosphere where edgy grooves rub shoulders with billowy synth waves and vocals that seem to have been lifted from an otherworldly choir. We hear elements of Cocteau Twins, Clan of Xymox, Faith and the Muse, and Dead Can Dance in their sound.
The faces behind Octavian Winters are a blend of the seasoned and the spectral. There’s guitarist Stephan Salit, who’s no stranger to the strings with Thrill of The Pull, and drummer Randy Gzebb, who keeps time like a clock in a haunted house. Bassist Jay Denton and Ria (Amenti) Aursjoen, doubling on vocals and keyboards, complete this ensemble. Their sound incorporates threads of visceral energy and ethereal whispers, crafting songs that feel like half-forgotten tales told under a sky peppered with stars and shadows. Each member of Octavian Winters has shared the stage with many iconic acts over the years, including Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke, Lords of the New Church, Savage Republic, Christian Death, The Frozen Autumn, Everything Goes Cold and Black Tape for a Blue Girl.
In their debut, The Line or Curve, Octavian Winters delves into the arcane world of symbols and sigils, where every swoop and scribble could either unlock the universe – or exist as doodles. Sigils are intricate mazes of lines and curves, believed by some to be cosmic remote controls. The band suggests that these symbols are potent conduits of energy, ready to spring into action if drawn just right. But here’s the catch – it’s all about precision. One wrong line, and your mighty sigil is as powerful as a wet noodle. It’s a bit like cooking; a pinch too much salt and you’re dining with disappointment. So, as Octavian Winters musically meanders through this mystical terrain, they invite you to ponder: Will you draw a line or a curve? It’s a choice laden with existential heft, but who knows? With the right line or curve, you might just tap into the secrets of the cosmos, or at least enjoy a compelling soundtrack while trying.
The opening track, Ondine, is like the maître d’ of a grand auditory banquet, setting the stage and whetting your appetite with an overture of emotion, serving up a sampler platter, yet coyly leaving a dash of mystery on the table. You are then presented with an opulent spread of sounds, richly layered. The lyrics of Ondine evoke a tale of longing and mystical romance. Delicate, moonlit messages offer their heart and soul, only to be met with the subject’s elusive nature, symbolized by retreating into the water and hiding among stones. This enchanting exchange is set against a backdrop of starry nights and deep emotional immersion.
Undertow depicts a winter scene with vivid imagery of stars and ice, symbolizing the delicate yet continuous nature of emotions. It suggests an invitation to join in this fragile, endless loop of feelings. via the irresistible force of the ‘undertow,’ a metaphor for being drawn into deep, overwhelming emotions, accompanied by a plea for comprehensive understanding and forgiveness.
Surreal expresses a sense of disconnection and surrealism in human relationships, contrasting the physicality of hands and voice with the intangible nature of belief and emotion. It portrays hearts as isolated, heavy stones, and introduces a devilish element representing a journey back to reality. The lyrics convey a deep sense of disillusionment with the hatred and disbelief in the world, highlighting the struggle to find something genuine and urging to find a way through this surreal existence. This is followed by Velveteen: a methodical, almost predatory progression of time and actions. The song shifts to a scene of artificial beauty and superficial beliefs, symbolized by betting on design, a plastic flower, and a lifeless, commercialized bride. The overarching theme is a critique of dreaming one’s life away in a world filled with superficiality and pretense.
Finally we have Nebula, which describes a journey through time and space, centered around an Aeon spinning years from a spark to the present. A sense of cosmic scale and the ephemeral nature of dreams is introduced, which ultimately dissolve into nothingness. The imagery of a new sun descending over an ending world adds a sense of cyclical renewal and finality. The song also references the stars of the Seven, likened to a crown in the night, symbolizing a guiding light or destiny for those who have passed, further emphasizing the theme of the transient nature of existence and dreams.
Listen to the album below:
“This record is a powerful mix of ethereal, shoegaze and darkwave genres, which came naturally when we started writing the record,” says Ria Aursjoen. “Each song has a slightly different feel from start to finish…This album is about coming to terms with isolation and loss in various forms, touching on themes that the whole world has dealt with face to face for the past few years – feelings and repercussions that have left a deep imprint on all of us. The music and lyrics are a natural extension of these emotions and thoughts, bubbling under the surface…It is a metaphor for the choice we have of our world view. It references geometries. In one geometric system the shortest path is a line. But in a curved space the shortest path is a curve. We can describe the world through either geometry. So, which way of looking at the world do we choose? This brings us back to the theme of separation and disconnection; the past few years have unearthed such deep divides over different world views that there is often no desire to attempt reconnection.”
“This record is very special to me as this was a totally different experience – putting a group of well-respected musicians together and starting the writing process in the middle of a pandemic, when the world was in isolation and in a state of shock,” says Randy Gzebb. “I think the whole feeling with everyone working ideas out together produced a special vibe when we got together and started writing the songs. I would start off with a drum groove and everyone started adding their ideas. After working out the ideas out with little back and forth, we started recording demos, which sounded like finished tracks without the polish you get when tracks a have been through the mixing phase.”
For this album’s recording, Octavian Winters chose the haunts of Mark Pistel, known for his work with Meat Beat Manifesto and Consolidated, at the illustrious OW Studio and Room 5 Recording. William Faith, whose résumé reads like a Who’s Who of the Gothic Elite (The Bellwether Syndicate, Faith and the Muse, Christian Death, The March Violets, Jarboe, Clan of Xymox), took the helm in production, mixing and mastering at 13 Studio in Chicago.
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