Katatonia - Topic

Discouraged Ones Play

On Discouraged Ones, Katatonia remains as depressive as ever, while at the time moving even further away from its earlier sound than it did on the previous release, Brave Murder Day. Cleanly sung vocals (at times reminiscent of the Cure's Robert Smith) have replaced the agonizing growls of Dance of December Souls, while the songs themselves -- averaging about four minutes apiece -- are much more compact than their previous extended epics. The key aspects of the sound here are the thickly layered guitars, which are distorted but somewhat pushed back in the mix, and the huge, reverberating drumbeats, which are almost uniformly played in a slow-to-medium tempo and seem purposely simplistic. These elements cause the songs to sound overly similar on the first few spins; however, with subsequent listens, the melodies begin to peek through the fog, and the album as a whole takes on an almost hypnotic, dreamlike feel, something reinforced by the ever-steady beats. The imagery-laden lyrics (best exemplified by "Saw You Drown") also accentuate this dreamlike quality. Other noteworthy tracks include "Deadhouse," "Cold Ways," and the slowed-down closer, "Distrust," although the whole of this album really exceeds the sum of its parts. Through its subtle melodies, minimal rhythms, and strongly melancholy moods, Discouraged Ones emerges as either a masterpiece, or else something very close. ~ William York, Rovi

Dead End Kings Play

When Sweden's Katatonia released the nearly conceptual Night Is the New Day in 2009, there was little doubt that they had nearly transcended metal -- despite the fact that they engaged in thundering heaviness at will. Dead End Kings is a further exploration of the deeply atmospheric, melodic brand of "dark rock" offered on the earlier recording, but where the former was so focused on being an album that was greater than the sum of its parts, the latter is a collection of tightly written songs that work in virtually any sequential context, making for a more compelling listen. Produced by vocalist Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström, and mixed by David Castillo, Dead End Kings offers a massive integration of sounds, textures, and architectures, organic and synthetic, ranging from lush softness to nearly bludgeoning moments of doom-laden density. A cello introduces "The Parting," the set opener. It is answered by Nyström and Per Eriksson's rumbling guitars, Daniel Liljekvist's syncopated drumming, and Niklas Sandin's thrumming bassline. It is further decorated by layers of dark aural thickness: synths, multi-tracked strings, and haunted ambiences courtesy of Frank Default. It is the door that opens into a swirling, shape-shifting universe, where sophisticated melodics underscore melancholic themes of isolation, loss, grief, death, loneliness, and existential angst -- the sadness is pervasive. Norwegian vocalist Silje Wergeland of the Gathering adds a passionate duet vocal on "The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here." "Hypnone," with guitars at the forefront, highlighted by rolling tom-toms, adds a sinister tinge. While "The Racing Heart" is the only cut on the set that is a ballad proper -- and a lovely one, too -- "Buildings" is the only cut that could properly be called "metal." The latter features churning guitar riffs, propulsive drumming, and urgent synths, in a stop-and-start cadence that alternates with bleak melodies and near menace. The latter half of the record features tracks -- "Leech," "Ambitions," "Undo You" -- that alternate between rockist balladry and doom, yet differ from one another a great deal. The harder "Lethean" and the gloomily anthemic "First Prayer" prefigure "Dead Letters," the set's finest cut, which can properly be called "prog" (not a criticism). With its various parts, ever-shifting dynamics, and blazing instrumental interludes, it sends the set off with a nearly majestic bang. Dead End Kings is uncompromising in its musical excellence, bleak vision, and dark, hunted beauty; it extends Katatonia's reach exponentially. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

Brave Murder Day Play

The first of two Katatonia discs to feature Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth subbing for regular vocalist Jonas Renske, Brave Murder Day is perhaps the most thorough and accomplished first-phase release from the Swedish death/doom outfit. The music is simple, almost trance-like gothic metal topped with Åkerfeldt's signature shouts and growls. Dynamics aren't exactly places at a premium on Brave Murder Day, but quieter moments on tracks like "Day" are a nice touch. These softer spots never really hint at the band's coming genre shift, and unlike later outings, there are no borderline alternative rock moments on Brave Murder Day. This should delight fans of Katatonia's earliest recordings. Consistent and committed to its gloomy theme, this 1997 Century Media offering represents the metallic high-water mark from an ever-evolving group. ~ Vincent Jeffries, Rovi

For Funerals to Come Play

Katatonia's first recording for new label AvantGarde was 1995's For Funerals to Come.... EP, which found the ever more confident Swedes now capable of knocking out desolate doom/death anthems quite effortlessly. To wit, the opening colossus that is "Funeral Wedding" doesn't even feel like it lasts all of eight minutes, and the comparatively brief "Shades of Emerald Lies" is perhaps even more complex in terms of shifting tempos and riffs -- all of them invariably embellished by gloriously bleak and morose lyrics. In turn, the two-minute title track is achingly gorgeous in its simplicity, its whispered words of unfathomable grief making way to the basic instrumental "Epistle," to bring yet another fine Katatonia EP to a close. [For Funerals to Come... was later included in 2004's Brave Yester Days collection.] ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

The Great Cold Distance Play

Coming three full years after 2003's Viva Emptiness, The Great Cold Distance continues the trend toward the mainstream that Katatonia began with that album. Singer Jonas Renske -- who apparently lost his ability to do the now-clichéd Cookie Monster vocals some years ago due to medical problems -- has refined his voice into a much smoother and, surprisingly, more powerful instrument that's capable of greater emotional shadings. Similarly, this album forsakes the blastbeats and hyperspeed riffing for a more dynamic sound that makes smart use of slow and quiet passages. They're still heavy: "Deliberation" and "Leaders" are as brutal as anything on the band's career high point, Last Fair Deal Gone Down. But that heaviness is set off by gems like the surprisingly restrained "In the White," a powerful and heartfelt song that's among the band's finest, and that sonic variety makes The Great Cold Distance a stronger, more compelling listen than a more bludgeoning effort would be. ~ Stewart Mason, Rovi

Dance of December Souls Play

With their first full album, 1993's Dance of December Souls, Sweden's Katatonia proved that classic death/doom need not come from England, whence, until then, the genre had flourished at the hands of Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride. In fact, December manages to drag heavy metal to a near-standstill along with the best of 'em, combining cookie-monster growls, slothful riffing, morbid guitar (and, snuck in now and then, morbid synthesizer) melodies, and slow but busy drumming into a mesmerizing wash of depression. Eight-minute highlight "Gateways of Bereavement" and the desolately beautiful instrumental "Elohim Meth" are both perfect examples of these exquisitely sluggish and gloomy capabilities, although other offerings like "In Silence Enshrined" and the fan favorite "Without God" do eventually pick up the pace somewhat -- also with very positive results. Not so the ensuing twin monoliths stacked back to back, "Velvet Thorns (Of Drynwhyl)" and "Tomb of Insomnia," both of which exceed 13 minutes in length and prove simply suicide-inducing for all but the most patient of metalheads -- despite any number of memorable passages strewn about their massive girths. Then again, it could be said that, by inspiring such thoughts of self-destruction, Katatonia accomplish their mission. And, in any case, flawed though it may be, Dance of December Souls has stood the test of time pretty well, and thus remains one of the doom/death genre's important building blocks. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

Sounds of Decay Play

By the time of 1997's Sounds of Decay EP, Sweden's Katatonia had almost entirely abandoned the slothful doom of their early days to embrace a driving, generally mid-paced style of death metal. Previewed a year earlier on the Brave Murder Day album, this newfound energy coincided with, but was likely in no way derived from, the temporary involvement of Opeth vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt, and effectively marked a transition period for the enduring Swedes that would eventually see them embrace goth metal a few years down the line. But for now, pure death offerings like "Nowhere," "At Last," and "Inside the Fall" retained the tried and true Cookie Monster vocal approach, while stacking ever more power chords within deepening layers of baleful guitar harmonies. The closing "Untrue" is another matter, revisiting somber doom for perhaps the final time before the aforementioned evolution began in earnest. [Sounds of Decay was later included in 2004's Brave Yester Days collection.] ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

Saw You Drown Play

1998's Saw You Drown EP ushered in a new phase in Katatonia's career. Gone were the crude doom/death elements partly pioneered (along with England's Anathema, My Dying Bride, and Paradise Lost) by the group's early-'90s releases, as well as the slightly sped-up, more straightforward death efforts of the mid-'90s, to be replaced by a new-fangled sort of clean-sung goth metal. As heard in new songs like "Nerve," the title track, and the amazingly mellow "Quiet World," the exact recipe for this new concoction was still in need of further testing through trial and error. Specifically, the "error" category would apply to the excessively Sisters of Mercy-reliant, ten-minute epic "Scarlet Heavens," which, to be fair, had actually been recorded a whole three years earlier. Also, this and other songs here featured enough daring innovations to be commendable in themselves, and certainly laid the foundation for Katatonia's ultimate achievement of their gothic goals. [Saw You Drown was later included in 2004's Brave Yester Days collection.] ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

Tonight's Decision Play

Tonight's Decision continues in the song-oriented direction of 1998's Discouraged Ones, but with an even greater emphasis on verse-chorus-verse songwriting. The guitars churn more heavily than on that album and the drums are a little more aggressive; however, the production is slicker on the whole, almost to the point of sounding ready for mainstream rock radio. Jonas Renske's vocals are again cleanly sung (as opposed to growled), and he has even added a falsetto to his arsenal. In other words, this album is a pretty far cry from the black metal-leaning style of their earlier records. On the other hand, the depressive melodies and lyrics are pure Katatonia, and the songwriting is solid throughout: "Black Session," "For My Demons," and "Right Into the Bliss" hold their own next to the cover of Jeff Buckley's "Nightmares by the Sea." It won't please fans hoping for the band to return to their earlier style, but taken on its own terms, Tonight's Decision is still a strong record, and one which suggests that greater commercial success isn't out of the question for these melancholy Swedes. ~ William York, Rovi

Viva Emptiness Play

The kings of Swedish heavy rock and doom and gloom pop return with perhaps their strongest outing yet. Two years after its last release, Katatonia has issued the most balanced, forward-looking record of the band's career. While Discouraged Ones established a niche for the group in the U.S. and marked a turn from the dark metallic mayhem of earlier records Dance of December Souls and Brave Murder Day, it was 2000's Tonight's Decision and 2001's Last Fair Deal Gone Down that carved out the uniqueness of the band's sound. Here are equal parts dark gothic pop, crushing heavy rock, textured keyboards, lithe pop melodies, beautifully crafted songs with unique dynamics and sculpted sonic environments to surround them, and bleak, even morose subject matter. While it's true that fans of the band's earliest material may not return to the fold with Viva Emptiness, those who have arrived since Discouraged Ones will be even more enthralled. The major difference between Viva Emptiness and its immediate predecessors is that the band has brought a more rockist edge to even out the textural soundscapes. This one is definitely heavier -- check out the bone-crushing intro on "Will I Arrive" or the bridge on the refrains on the album-opener "Ghost of the Sun." Vocalist Jonas Renkse's delivery is clear and deeply expressive of the band's atmospheric music and stays well within its tenor range. Guitarists Anders Nyström and Fred Norrman complement each other well in that both are well-versed in swirling, shaded enormous guitar sounds and neither overplay; they join together to create a warm, fuzzed-out wall of noise that is equal parts devastatingly edgy yet warm and full of melodic invention. (This is gorgeously displayed on "Burn the Remembrance" and "Complicity.") The rhythm section of Daniel Liljekvist on drums and Mattias Norrman on bass is fatter and meatier than any in heavy metal -- the stuttered stop-and-start of "Walking By a Wire" offers a rounded foundation that gives up none of its thudding power in an otherwise angular yet restrained tune. The other thing that sets Katatonia apart from all of its peers with the possible exception of Liverpudlian quartet Anathema is the band's lyrics. Virtually every track here will have the listener entering into a dialogue with Renske as he offers observations on everything from questioning the right to continued existence to revenge to determination to grief to alienation to political and social dystopian catastrophes, and even to glimmers of hope in the wasteland. Viva Emptiness is a dynamically jarring and intellectually demanding yet musically accessible journey to the dark side and back, full of glorious riffs, complex harmonic sensibilities, and a vulnerable yet ultimately powerful brute force. Viva Emptiness is so intelligent that it borders on brilliance; it's a candidate for one the finest rock records of 2003. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

Last Fair Deal Gone Down Play

Whether or not this album's title refers to bluesman Robert Johnson's classic song of the same name, Katatonia is still singing the blues in their own way here, even if their style has nothing else to do with the blues as a genre. Continuing in the vein of their previous release, Tonight's Decision, this is depressing, heavy alternative rock with a notable Cure influence -- Katatonia is not really playing metal anymore here. The production has been sharpened on this album compared to its predecessor, accentuating the quiet verse/loud chorus dynamics the band so often uses, making the loud parts hit harder and the softer parts come through with more detail. Meanwhile, frontman Jonas Renske has continued to grow as a vocalist, showing greater range while also maintaining that worried, defeated delivery. Not many singers can trot out chorus after chorus of woeful lyrics such as "Burn down my house/Stab me in the heart" ("Chrome") and "When you have no one/No one can hurt you" ("Don't Tell a Soul") and make it sound so convincing. Song-wise, there are obvious standouts -- "Teargas," "Clean Today," and "Sweet Nurse" -- but the album is well-paced and consistent throughout, the only real weak spot being the chorus on "We Must Bury You," where Renske reaches a little too hard for the high notes. That's a minor quibble, though; this is an excellent album on the whole: heavy, tuneful, and thick with atmosphere and melancholy. ~ William York, Rovi

Night Is the New Day Play

The latest album from Swedish doom rockers Katatonia, their first studio effort since 2006, is as moody and beautiful as their other latter-day work. The group's career can be marked in two stages based on the condition of singer Jonas Renske's vocal cords -- basically, after the band's first two albums, he developed health problems that prevented him from performing harsh death growls, and ever since the band has moved in an increasingly melodic direction, even covering songs by Will Oldham and Jeff Buckley. It's unsurprising to learn that Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt helped out by performing the harsh vocals on Katatonia's Brave Murder Day album and Sounds of Decay EP in 1996 and 1997, since Night Is the New Day songs "Forsaker" and "Idle Blood" could be outtakes from that band's Damnation or Blackwater Park. Other tracks like "The Longest Year," the hilariously titled "Onward into Battle" (a song this slow and lush would only inspire soldiers to lie down for a nap), and "Liberation" are slightly more unique with their use of programmed rhythms and trip-hop keyboards beneath and behind the crunching guitars. Overall, this is a very beautiful and reflective album, though at this point Katatonia are only notionally a metal band, much more focused on moody (as in Moody Blues) beauty than vulgar displays of power. ~ Phil Freeman, Rovi

Brave Yester Days Play

As the only major non-English contributors to the development of doom/death metal in the early '90s, Sweden's Katatonia were clearly a dark horse what must surely have been one of the slowest races ever staged in the metal realm. And yet, the dark horse has prevailed, or at least kept pace with the odds-on favorites, in a career that now spans almost two decades. Brave Yester Days takes a stab at chronicling the first half of that career through the unique perspective of Katatonia's numerous EP releases, many of which contained material of equal quality to their well-loved albums, and are now assembled into this amazingly handy two-disc collection. Starting at the beginning, with the band's first, remarkably vital-sounding debut EP, 1992's Jhva Elohim Meth...The Revival, disc one then samples two epics from 1993's Dance of December Souls album, and two, truly obscure gems from the War Compilation, Vol. 1 (the haunting "Black Erotica" and "Love of the Swan") before culminating in inspired fashion with all four excellent cuts from 1995's For Funerals to Come... EP. Disc two opens with a tandem of highlights from 1996's widely acclaimed, and surprisingly energetic, sophomore album, Brave Murder Day, followed by the next year's similarly styled Sounds of Decay EP -- both featuring the vocals of future Opeth legend Mikael Åkerfeldt, and serving notice that Katatonia's doom tendencies were fast giving way to straight-up death metal. Brave Yester Days' fascinating display of sonic evolution is then brought to a close with 1998's Saw You Drown EP, whereupon Katatonia's gradual shift away from their doom/death origins was, at last, brought to a clear resolution by the sound of lighter guitars, incremental keyboards, and the replacement of deathly growls with clean-sung, melodic vocals. All told, this collection serves not only as an astoundingly well-conceived summary of Katatonia's purely metallic career, but also a frankly unbeatable bang-for-buck proposition when it comes to housing so many scattered releases under one roof. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi
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