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What the fuck?
No, seriously, what the fuck?
After getting this album from a friend, I was prepared to hate it. I try to keep an open mind, but I thought of what I knew about modern Katatonia and came up with the following:
•Slick, melodic, semi-doom metal.
•Vocals that resemble modern alternative rock.
•Not all that much distortion.
And indeed, this album consists of all of the above. So the question is...why the hell do I like it so much?
As Thrash_Till_Death said, Last Fair Deal Gone Down might not be a metal album. At worst, though, it's melodic hard rock, and there are some definite metal moments - just about every song contains a metal riff or two. What is remarkable about Fair Deal is Katatonia's ability to convey incredible amounts of emotion with simple passages, melodies just technical enough to avoid boredom and loaded with a darkness that rescues them from sappiness.
Jonas Renske does indeed sound like an alt-rock vocalist, but he's an alt-rock vocalist singing great melodies. Perhaps the great part is that instead of throwing himself into the songs with passion and emotion, he frequently uses a somewhat dispassionate style (often achieved by multi-tracking) that counterbalances the music; when the music is more basic and heavy, his voice gets more emotional. It's a great tradeoff, and makes this one of the best "mellow out" albums around.
Fair Deal does have some flawed tracks. "We Must Bury You," after an interesting intro that contrasts a light melody with haunting vocals and lyrics ("We had you down upon your knees/We were kicking you in the head"), goes into a stupid, techno-sounding chorus that grates on the nerves like sandpaper. Skip after 45 seconds. "Passing Bird" tries to be doomy and drags instead, the drums often seeming just a bit too slow to match the already sludgy music. The chorus is notable for two things: 1) the first use of the word "emo" by a metal band that I know of (though they pronounce it wrong) 2) an utterly unnecessary and jarring "fuck" thrown in for no reason. The rest of the song is listenable, the chorus is rank. "Sweet Nurse" has an annoying keyboard echo effect throughout that just renders the song irritating.
The rest of the album, pretty much, is all good. The best song is "Clean Today," with the heaviest riff on the album leading into a really excellent, catchy melody. The verses are pure doom metal, with that sort of "numb" vocal style; the chorus is one of the catchiest things in metal but utterly headbangable as well. Relatively simple, but absolutely perfectly crafted.
"Tear Gas" is a lighter track (though certainly not in mood) that relies on the vocals to create the saddened mood before another one of those utterly incredible choruses. The closer, "Don't Tell A Soul," has a cool swing intro (kicking in at 0:25), the best of the rare guitar solos, and a stomping metal riff under a chorus that, you guessed it, really kicks ass. The Katatonia chorus method involves a base of heavy, pouding rhythm guitar, a catchy lead melody, and Renske's vocals finding the Magic Chorus Notes that get stuck in your head and won't get out unless you take a handsaw to your skull. In this case, that's a good thing.
"Transpire" is another good piece, probably the overall most metal song on the album with pure doom sections beginning at 1:43 and continuing throughout. The rest basically follow the same rules - quiet intro, melodic verses, good-excellent heavier choruses, supreme chill music. Not that I'm using this review as a platform for drug use, but this is an excellent stoner CD.
And there you have it. A bonafide thrasher such as myself finds in it his blackened, steak-clogged, malevolent heart to let himself be affected by this music, and it's pretty damn good. Anyone who is seeking some music to lower their blood pressure, soothe their overactive mind, and possibly open up the emo floodgates (a necessary cleansing) should check this album out.