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Katatonia's sound has always eluded simple definitions. Led Zeppelin was rock and roll. Nine Inch Nails is industrial rock. Metallica, at least until the mid-90's, was heavy metal. What Katatonia plays, as well as the effect it has on me, is hard to describe. "Rock" is not quite accurate; no rock band I've heard possesses their ethereal depth, and the proud vulnerability that drips from even their cleanest melodies and hooks. "Metal" doesn't fit either, at least not since their early days. If pressed hard enough I would say that it's still a stronger factor in their sound than rock, because metal has always been about expressing brutally honest and dark emotions and ideas through music--and that description, if nothing else, fits Katatonia.
The band's ninth full-length album, "Dead End Kings," is another proud entry in their criminally under-appreciated legacy. It represents Katatonia at their most developed and maybe their most popular. It's an album worthy of praise and adulation. But I am sorry to say that I just don't like it as much I thought I would.
Admittedly, following up one of my most loved albums of all time in "Night Is the New Day" was going to be a challenge--for me, if not for them. To my ears, "Night" felt like the destination of all the subtle twists and turns in the musical trail they had blazed for nearly two decades. Rather than featuring a few strong tracks among several good ones, every song on that album felt like a different high, another stage of a somber journey. "Night" and other Katatonia albums had the unmistakable feeling of being greater than the sum of their parts.
This is not something I can say about "Dead End Kings." After giving it some weeks to grow on me, I still have to conclude that it's an album with some brilliant songs rather than a brilliant album. Something of their former consistency is missing here. I can hear it when I compare the powerful hopelessness of Ambitions to the unsteady Buildings, and the fully realized Lethean to the vaguely unpleasant straining of opener The Parting. In particular they seem to stumble a bit over the grittiest parts of the album, as if they don't really want to play their heavy style anymore but feel obligated to try, while most of their lighter and more soulful cuts are beyond reproach.
The good news is that the best songs here are VERY good. Leech is a stunner, skipping lightly along with barely disguised venom before the frustrated rush of the chorus--"how could you take away the burning I have?...It's my heart you leech"--evoking memories of theft and betrayal in the listener. The One You Are Looking For took time to grow on me with a female vocalist slipping into the chorus, but became something I still can't go a day without hearing. The Racing Heart is a grimly determined anthem in the vein of Day and Then the Shade that has carried me through more than one bad day at work.
The problem--if you can call it a real problem--is that such inspiration comes in fragments, and no song on the album reminds me of this more than the shockingly dry and perfunctory finale Dead Letters. "Vexation, internal void," Renkse sings painfully to open the song, and those are my feelings exactly when I hear this. It's not bad, but in its lack of lyrical heft and emotional impact, it's one of the biggest disappointments on the album.
Fortunately, one Katatonia tradition that endures here is that their bonus tracks really are bonuses. Second is a short but very sweet number, pulling off a distressed chorus that does not seem forced, and The Act of Darkening is an elegantly haunting ballad that conjures Porcupine Tree in its soulful, unhurried pacing. I found both of these songs more enjoyable than half of those that made it to the main list.
Maybe it's not fair to expect perfection from Jonas & Co., but their work has encouraged those very expectations for so long, and something seems amiss here. Maybe it was Fredrik and Mattias Norrman's departure, the awkward track listing, their exhaustive touring schedule or the band broadening its style so much that they've spread themselves too thin. Whatever the cause, their long walk through the haze of urban and cultural decay is beset with some creative stumbles. The greatest icons can't keep their footing atop the heap forever, even a heap of their own making. The most lasting impression of this recording is that Katatonia seem finally to have met their match: themselves.
It's rare when a band that has been around for 20+ years, like Katatonia has, can put out their 9th album and it be some of the best material they have ever done. I love some of the stuff Katatonia has done before, especially the legendary Brave Murder Day, but overall, I've found most of their albums to be somewhat mediocre. I could never really get into the pre-Akerfeldt heavy stuff (i.e. Dance of December Souls), partly because Jonas sucked at growling. After he realized this and the band mellowed out, they produced some catchy tracks in the mid-era ("Saw You Drown," "Teargas") However, I just never found their post-Akerfeldt stuff as interesting as Opeth, who were making stuff like Blackwater Park around that time. They kinda tried to be heavier again with Viva Emptiness, but instead it sounded almost nu-metal-ish to me, so I kind gave up on them after LFDGD. That was until I saw them play with Opeth a couple weeks ago and heard much of this album live. Judging by their latest efforts, I can say Katatonia has finally surpassed their compatriots. But enough with the Opeth comparisons...
This album is difficult to categorize, genre-wise. I'm not really convinced "depressive rock" in a real genre. This is certainly very prog rock influenced, but there are a decent amount of metal riffs as well, often of the 2rd-hand Meshuggah / Tool-esque variety. Katatonia has mentioned Porcupine Tree and Tool as some of their favorite bands, and this is noticeable here. However, that's not to say that this album isn't original, because I've never heard anything quite like it. It's not immediately catchy when you hear it, like some of their mid-era stuff, but rather it takes a few listens to grow on you. But once it does, you may get stuck listen to this album over and over for days. At least I have. I've been listening to this album for almost two weeks straight since I saw them play. And I didn't even think I liked new Katatonia.
Jonas Renkse unquestionably puts in the best performance of his career on this album. His lyrics have gotten more mature than on previous albums, and he has gotten more confident as a vocalist. The vocals are never heavy on this album, but Renkse does have a bit more power behind them now (see: the opening track "The Parting"). Also, there is a particularly outstanding vocal harmony with Renkse, Nystrom, and another guy at the end of "The Racing Heart," especially if you see it live. There's also a duet with the chick from The Gathering on the second song, if you're into that.
The guitars on this album are more metal, and also better at *being* metal, than previous albums. As I alluded to earlier, they've been trying to be heavier for the past few albums, but I feel like they've really refined their sound here. Although some of the riffs are indeed obvious Meshuggah/Tool rip-offs, Katatonia is playing heavy music better now than they have since the mid-90s. There are several moments on this album which induce involuntary headbanging.
At other times, mainly verses, the guitars take a backseat, and the keyboards supply the melodies. They keyboard work on this album is excellent and really what completes this album and helps create the atmosphere. They are present throughout most of the album, but also never really in the forefront. Rather, they blend in well with the rest of the music.
The bassist does nothing to warrant mention, but the drumming performance is solid. There's some cool stuff with weird time signatures in the Toolshuggah riffs, and a bit of double bass here and there. Pretty creative overall. I don't know, I'm not good at talking about drums.
In conclusion, I love Brave Murder Day too much to say that this is Katatonia's best album, but it certainly is the best thing they've done in a long time. Katatonia has been around for so many years, yet I think it has taken them a while to really find their own unique sound. With this album, I feel like they have finally carved a niche for themselves and yes, matched or surpassed their more popular Swedish friends.
Highlights: "The Parting," "Hypnone," "The Racing Heart," "Lethean," "First Prayer", "Dead Letters." Five points off because the other 5 songs aren't as good as these.
There is one major difference between Dead End Kings and the previous Katatonia albums from at least Last Fair Deal Gone Down onwards: it takes time to grow, and plenty of time. Each of its precedessors had its fair share of growers which did not reveal their beauty immediately, but they also had lots of riffs, melodies and infectious choruses which made themselves comfortable in your head immediately.
This album is a bit different story. I would have thought it's just me, but then I've seen lots of similar opinions in reviews and elsewhere: you won't be blown away after the first listen here. It's not that there are no accessible songs on the album, as Dead Letters made me instantly addicted when it was first released (as the whole song is a slightly Tool-inspired riffmonster and is guaranteed headbanging material), and I instantly fell in love with the dramatic and powerful Hypnone, but a fair share of the album felt a bit like a wall which is not so easy to penetrate.
I'll be honest: I have no idea what's responsible for this change. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: if you hate what Katatonia did with Discouraged Ones and want them to go back to doom, yes, you can leave now. If you're unhappy they left the intense and aggressive style of Viva Emptiness/The Great Cold Distance on Night is The New Day and replaced it with a more reflective and occasionally even progressive sound, you're probably going to be even more unhappy here. Dead End Kings expands on the ideas started there, giving even more room to keyboards and synths to create atmosphere (especially piano has more to say here, which is something I enjoy very much), and it looks like there will be no more furious pieces like Ghost of The Sun or Consternation.
On the other hand, however, this album is Katatonia to the core in every single aspect. The guitar style just needs a black sticker saying "Blakkheim approved", as it's hardly changed with his usual low tunings, occasional chugging and sad, melodic leads. The second set of six strings of wonder, however, has changed for the first time and passed from Fredrik Norrman to Per Eriksson, who seems to have fit into the band perfectly. The vocals, I think for the first time ever, are genuinely unchanged: Jonas seemed to improve and develop his vocal style on every single album up to Night is The New Day, but it seems like he's finally reached his peak and he's exactly as great as on the previous album, with his mostly subtle and delicate, but sometimes also powerful and majestic voice. Also, in my opinion the most underappreciated part of the band - Daniel Liljekvist - does, as usual, amazing work on drums, with his very sophisticated, clever drumming style. In the calmer, minimalistic sections, he's subtle like a shadow and he adds a lot of depth while never taking too much space; in the heavy sections his drumming is technical and incredibly refined, making pretty much any riff more interesting and fun. I honestly don't understand why his drumming is so overlooked, as he's done an excellent job on every Katatonia album he's appeared on, and this is no exception. There's also a second newcomer, replacing Fredrik's brother Mattias on bass: Niklas Sandin. He gets more space in the quieter moments of the album, as in the heavier sections the bass is not that prominent in the mix.
And even though almost all of the songs were written, as usual, by Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström, there is one exception: Lethean, one of my personal favourites on the album, is co-written by Per Eriksson, and it's one of the most beautiful songs ever created by Katatonia, with its catchy verses and the absolutely wonderful, emotional chorus; one hell of a songwriting debut in the band, in my opinion. The rest of the songs are divided more or less 50/50 between the two founders, with the first half of the album written mostly by Jonas Renkse, including the majestic and amazing opener The Parting, the ballad-ish The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here (with female vocals courtesy of Silje Wergeland) driven by a great, very subtle palm-muted riff, and my favourite duo of Hypnone and The Racing Heart. The two songs are basically tied together, the former being heavier and dramatic, the latter being a beautiful and very melancholic almost-ballad. Anders Nyström, on the other hand, wrote some of the heavier stuff, such as the shorter and more straightforward Buildings, and the aforementioned crushing closer, Dead Letters. The latter is also preceded by a strange but very interesting beast called First Prayer, with its slightly unusual rhythm and melodic chorus, but with a sort of "heavy section" integrated in the second half.
Nevertheless, it appears that the more catchy songs are rather in the beginning and the end of the album; the middle is a bit more difficult territory. Leech is an interesting track, with minimalistic and almost jazzy verses which then explode into a quite angry chorus; Undo You, on the other hand, is probably the softest track on the record, with its overwhelmingly melancholic atmosphere and subtle guitar work combined with some keyboard ambience. The only song I'm not sure what to think of is Ambitions, which has potential, but I think it drags for a little too long. Other than that, even though I've mentioned some of my favourites, the whole album is a very consistent and coherent body of work, and it's really difficult to pick "better" or "worse" here. Katatonia has usually done a great job at maintaining good flow between songs on their releases but I think this is where they are by far the most successful - Dead End Kings sounds very much like a record meant to be experienced as a whole, not as separate pieces.
This adds even further to the amazing, melancholic atmosphere of the album; the open spaces and grey colours of the artwork reflect the feeling of the music pretty well. While the double guitar attack does provide a fair share of heavy, downtuned riffing, especially present in the choruses (as usual in case of Katatonia, the verses are calmer, the choruses are heavier), there are countless subtle moments on Dead End Kings, where the guitars are much more subtle and clean, while piano, keyboard ambience and even slight orchestral elements build the backbone of the music. It's no longer the suffocating darkness of The Great Cold Distance, but rather melancholy and reflection. It's also worth noting that there are more guitar solos on this album, and pretty much every single one of them is great, particularly the ones in Hypnone and Lethean.
Overall, there is something strange about this album. It's a natural progression from Night is The New Day, and yet it sounds very different; on the other hand, despite that feeling and the changes, especially more keyboards, you'll need approximately 15 seconds to say it's 100% Katatonia if you're more or less familiar with their works. Most of the songs are catchy, and yet it takes time to fully appreciate. It's subtle and far less aggressive than most other Katatonia albums, and yet has a huge emotional intensity. I'm not really sure about all this, but one thing is obvious to me: Dead End Kings is a beautiful and atmospheric album. I just love it the way it is. If you're going to try yourself - it's absolutely worth it, just bear in mind what I just said.
PS. If you can get your hands on the bonus tracks - I absolutely advise that. Second is a very simple song, but the very emotional chorus alone makes it worth listening to. The Act of Darkening, on the other hand... someone please explain to me why does Katatonia use acoustic guitars so rarely. Because when they do, it's absolutely fucking awesome, every single time. This is no exception. (And I think it's an even better album closer than Dead Letters.)
A suiting album title to sum up what’s inside this magical disc of music would be something like this: 10,000 Days of Night is the New day. Basically, this sounds like Night is the New Day thrown together with a lot of random Tool-esque (hence, 10,000 days) riffs and vocals with classic Katatonia overly depressing lyrics and catchy chorus'. If you liked their previous album, I don't think you can go wrong here, but if you are struggling to let go of Katatonia's old self, this isn't going to help achieve that dream of finding it again.
Dead End Kings starts off with a song called the Parting, a song at first listen I thought was amazing and left me thinking that this was going to be as good as the album gets. Little did I know it actually only gets better from here. As we move on through the album, the songs progressively get heavier. A woman does guest vocals on track two, which is also one of the best songs featured. She has a very delicate voice, as if sound itself could be so fragile. An excellent job done on her part backing up Katatonia's vocals, which sound nearly identical to those used on Night is the New Day. Nothing wrong with that unless you hated it. His voice is great and sounds like he is singing with a lot more emotion on this album. While Katatonia is already such an emotionally-draining band, he seems to crank the sorrow to 110% on Dead End Kings.
The piano sounds excellent and steals the show from other instruments used here and is very prominent even in the heavier bits, but overlaps magnificently. They use a lot of it and they also use a lot of electronic synth-ish noises throughout the album during quiet parts, which add a lot of good build-up for the choruses. The rhythm guitar is very steady throughout the entirety of the album and the lead plays very soft riffs over top most of the time at a perfect volume. The solos also sound great, nothing very complex, but not much of anything is very complex on this album, just very, very complete sounding, good 'ol depressing-as-hell Katatonia. That's what Katatonia fans want, right? Well, it's what I want from them at least and they serve one hell of a portion of it with Dead End Kings.
The lyrics are very enjoyable and easy to remember because they are sung so incredibly clear, making this such a fun album to sing along to. The songs sort of skip over each other, going back and forth from an overly depressing ballad-style to somewhat Tool-inspired, heavier and melancholic riff-heavy songs.
I didn't really expect much from this album. I only enjoyed Night is the New Day for a while and didn't think this would be much different/better. My expectations were blown away with a very moody, clean-sounding, brilliant performance by the kings of sadness themselves, Katatonia. They are no dead ends here.
Katatonia is one of those bands I’ve often stumbled over in diverse reviews, in interviews or in many talks with other Metal fans around the whole wide world but for no truly valid reason I’ve never managed to give them a try until now. The band is though often compared to some of my favourite acts of all times such as the now split-up French progressive gothic metal band The Old Dead Tree, the dark horror metal duo of The Vision Bleak or even the highly diversified melodic metal act Amorphis. Finally, the band’s brand new release was the perfect occasion for me to try out this Swedish quintet. The cover artwork, the booklet and even the song titles seemed promising enough for an atmospheric and profound release and that’s why I took the risk to buy this album straight away.
I guess this wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever taken. I’m negatively surprised by the faceless and weak production, the similar and unspectacular song structures and the lack of energy. Most tracks are simply keyboard driven and lack of crunching vocals, emotional guitar riffs or any progressive tones. I wouldn’t even call this a metal record but rather a depressive rock release without guts. I thought that this release would grow on me and many fans said that this album would need ten or fifteen spins at least before one would appreciate it but if it takes so long it probably means that you really want it to be good and listen to it often enough to drown your disappointment in floating depression. I gave this album about five spins and gave up. My time is definitely too precious to waste another ten hours on it.
This all sounds quite negative but I’m aware that there are still a couple of good tracks on here. “The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here” is a surprisingly warm and charming half ballad where the guest vocals of The Gathering's new singer Silje Wergeland fit well to those of Jonas Renske. The track though sounds a little bit too much like a more recent Kamelot duet and the Swedish band should have made something more unique out of this collaboration.
The strongest track on this release comes around with the closing “Dead Letters” in my humble opinion that features some small but efficient electronic samples and distorted vocals as well as a dark and intriguing riff. This song could though also come from Radiohead or Tool. If you have purchased the limited edition, the song “The Act Of Darkening” also happens to be quite decent with interesting drum patterns and a focus on acoustic guitar harmonies that give the song a longing campfire atmosphere.
A few other tracks are acceptable and there isn’t a really true stinker on here, too but the band doesn’t manage to really stay on my mind or leave a deeper impression. I’m not an expert of Katatonia but this album here is only of an average quality and it didn’t make me want to discover more of this band even though they are so often compared to some of my favourite artists.
Initially, I felt similar to many people concerning this newest effort from Swedish melodic depressive doom titans Katatonia, essentially a sense of disappointment in the initial shape of songs themselves, but repeated listens has all but disintegrated that perspective. There is undoubtedly a dirth of the immediate hooks that have been so prevalent and satisfying within the recent history of Katatonia, so much of the confusion, in both you and I, can be chalked up to expectation. However, what people do not seem to grasp, is a crucial element that becomes clear with repeated exposures: Dead End Kings is a challenging record.
This is without compare the most mature, intelligent Katatonia release to date, and that perceived disappointment over the lack of aforementioned hooks and immediate gratification is more than made up for by the layers of intellect and delicious atmosphere that permeates Dead End Kings. After so many attempts, you will find you have broken through the surface, and as you come to know the songs more instinctively and intrinsically, you will come to appreciate the immense quality in both the structuring and subtlety exponentially.
As one would expect, there is a heavy focus on distinct melodies, but they swirl about each other in a way unseen from Katatonia, delicious layers of sound that wrap the delicate core in sweet obscurity. Opener The Parting has a strange rhythmic infatuation to it's lock-step riffing, offset by sweet warm bass tones and typically resplendent, interpretive lyrics, aspects that are prevalent throughout the album. The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here is calm and overtly sad, a depressive duet in ode to spiritual obscurity. Hypnone and The Racing Heart blend into each other like lovers, with hints of aggression poking through the bright, cold guitar lines and unforgettable choruses. Buildings emanates resigned frustration, veritably breathing wispy darkness with each uttered syllable, with waves of fluttering synths adding to the atmospheric bliss.
I've read a lot of criticism concerning the supposed addition of fluff, as if the second half the album is composed primarily of filler. While it admittedly doesn't resonate with me quite as much as the first 5, immaculate songs, they still radiate a crisp, cold charm. Leech is similar to The Parting in its odd, off-kilter rhythmic choruses, but lacks nothing in poignancy. The wispy melodies of Ambitions glide along like sorrowful apparitions, breathing frosty, minimalistic leads, and is spiritually akin to its successor, Undo You, another calm, dense assertion of failed individualism. The closing trio of Lethean, First Prayer, and the astounding Dead Letters pick things up again slightly, casting subtle rays of hope through the thick, downcast melodies to purvey the essence of the descriptor 'bittersweet'. Lethean's chorus in particular is heartbreaking, though I'd be hard pressed to leave any of them off a playlist of Katatonia's strongest tracks.
As for the prevalent assertion that this is one of Katatonia's heavier releases, in a sense I disagree. Indeed, it depends on your definition of 'heavy', in this instance. Certainly these compositions contain a tangible, nearly spiritual weight to them, but it's a clinging, intangible aura that can be attributed to natural, compositional density rather than something as basic as guitar tone. It's dark, dense, and nearly suffocating at times, though the pace is more often relaxed than it is hurried, if you catch my meaning.
To be honest, I sort of dismissed Dead End Kings upon the first few journeys through it. However, if you stick around and put in a bit of effort, you'll notice that it requires patience to reap its rewards and secrets, a virtue that, judging by the vague criticisms I have perused, have largely escaped their 'fans'. It is a record full of character and depth, and I must reiterate, is their most mature work. However, I must draw a line with the attribution of such a distinction. Does a high level of musical and lyrical maturity translate to being their best work overall? To be fair, I don't know. I think not, as I'm still drawn to the stunning immediacy of the choruses in Viva Emptiness and The Great Cold Distance, both masterstrokes and the undeniable pinnacle of the band's work to date, but I think it is a spectacularly unintelligent action to disregard Dead End Kings because it doesn't immediately please you, or even more puzzling, because it's 'familiar', perhaps the most laughable criticism of all. Yes, Katatonia have continued to grow the sound they have been cultivating of late, and it undeniably still sounds like Katatonia. Shame on them! Morons.
Have patience, people. The hooks may not sink in at first, but as it grows on you, the entirety of the composition becomes the hook, and as you peel away these layers, each delicious detail yields incremental satisfaction. If you sow a wind now, you will reap a storm. This is a rich album which you have barely begun to truly listen to. Keep it in your pants. Time will tell if this is one of the very best of 2012, but it certainly is one of my most listened to, as they provide a misty, obscure sense of longing and desperate satisfaction unlike the capabilities of any other band. Dead End Kings is a savage and resplendent ode to the beauty of melancholy, another stroke of brilliant artistry from one of the most unique and inspired musical entities within not only the realm of heavy metal, but music itself. As for immortality, or its place among its brethren albums, well, only time will tell.
-Left Hand of Dog
This is a really solid effort by Katatonia. Definitely one of their better albums of this century and better than Night Is The New Day. There is no groundbreaking evolution here - Katatonia continues their shift towards less heavy music. It's not metal anymore, at least not the whole time, but there is still no better source for melancholic rock than Katatonia. They've proven that, and this album is no exception.
Dead End Kings is not quite in the same league as Viva Emptiness or The Great Cold Distance yet, but it's been growing on me slowly. I must stress that it is an album that requires repeated listens. There are far less of the immediate hooks that made listening to Katatonia so fun in the past, but underneath the surface, this is a mature, atmospheric, complex and layered album. Once you get past the initial disappointment, continue listening and embrace subtle qualities that make this album great.
The vocals are enchanting, and the guitars, though featured less often than in previous albums, really make the most of it when they are. Songs like "Leathen" even include fabulous guitar solos, something of a rarity for Katatonia.
"The Parting" is a great opener, and probably the catchiest song on the album. "The One Your Are Looking For Is Not Here" is a simple, melodic song that has some really elegant accompanying female vocals from Silje Wergeland. The duo of Wergeland and Jonas Renske singing together transforms an otherwise mediocre track into an album highlight. "Hypnone" is one of the best tracks on Dead End Kings, with its empassioned chorus ("I need the sound of the rain...") Beautiful lyrics here. These first three tracks are the best on the album, in my opinion. Tracks 4 and 5 "The Racing Heart" (a light vocal-oriented song) and "Buildings" (one of the heaviest on the album) are also strong tracks. At this point, I was amazed and thought that this had the potential to perhaps equal Viva or TGCD.
However, tracks 6, 7 and 8 are all disappointingly lackluster. Katatonia succumbed the mid-album rut that so many bands seem to. These songs offer nothing new and simply recycle ideas already presented. "Leech" still really annoys me. The piano melody seems childish and out of place with the rest of the album. Despite an obvious attempt to be rousing, the choruses of all three of these tracks are bland and altogether unmemorable.
The rut is snapped, however, with track 9 "Lethean". This song is full of awesome lyrics, swirling drums, and a wall of guitar sound. The first track during which I naturally began headbanging on this album. The guitar solo is a shining moment that should not be missed.
Overall, Dead End Kings is an album that grows on you with repeated listens and feautures several Grade-A Katatonia songs. For fans of the past few albums, this will not disappoint. Saminess and a few too many filler tracks prevent Dead End Kings from reaching the 80% range. However, this is a slow-burner and something tells me that Dead End Kings will continue to grow on me.
It's more of the same of what Katatonia's been doing for awhile now: quality melancholic rock/metal. Their sound is basically the same as the last album, but I'm just fine with that as long as they keep putting out albums like Dead End Kings.
The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here
Rating: 3.5/5, 75%