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Usually when I review an album, I choose one that I really like, making it easy for me to elaborate on why I think its so good. This time I'm going to do one that let me down on day one and hasn't ever fully redeemed itself in my eyes. Some background: I got into Katatonia between "The Great Cold Distance" and this album, they quickly became one of my favourite bands ever with "Brave Murder Day" and "Discouraged Ones" firmly cemented in my list of all time favourites. I also found myself getting very much into the more modern albums like the aforementioned TGCD, and especially the fantastic "Viva Emptiness". When this album, the first new full length since I discovered this band, was announced, I was really looking forward to it and hoped it would continue the apparent roll that they were on. Sadly, despite a few definite highlights, this album fell somewhat flat to me. I went out to get it the week it was released, and funnily enough that was the last time I ever did that so far.
What do I like about this album? Well, the production for one. It was the cleanest and clearest to date, but undoubtedly rich and full of texture that works strongly in its favour at times. There's a noticeable increase in the use of synths and programmed percussion (after hearing the brilliant "Unfurl" I had quietly hoped that a fully down tempo electronica album might be in the cards), this is most noticeable in "The Longest Year"'s pulsing arpeggios which are a great feature, and one of the songs that stands out as a definite highlight on the album. My main gripe with Night Is The New Day is this: its too anemic sounding, and lacking in energy. Sure, anyone who's ever felt depressed knows that it basically feels just like that, but something about the more energetic songs on the preceding two albums just gave them so much more appeal to me. They're dynamic and multifaceted, both musically and emotionally. Take "Increase" from TGCD for example, even just the frantic opening minute. It transitions into soft verses and returns to a faster tempo during the choruses. Compared with something like "Forsaker" and most other songs from this album, that seem content to stick to the same tempo for their durations and...well. You see what I mean? To my ears almost all of this album, even the good parts, are content to just drift somewhat lifelessly without ever diversifying. If you ask me they already perfected that monotonous style, fairly accurate of the feeling of depression, on the amazing "Discouraged Ones" ten years prior to this. The approach they've been taking since 2001's "Last Fair Deal..." demands more dynamic songwriting and performance to be fully effective. Otherwise its just kind of...well, boring to be honest. Many of the riffs, even when they're good riffs, feel like they're just there, almost for the sake of it.
Another thing: "Idle Blood". Dear lord, no. Something I never hoped would happen: Katatonia attempts their best Opeth impression. Yes they're both very good bands, and they happen to have a shared history, but in the past they were always distinct from eachother. This is not what I want to hear. A very tedious song, I'm afraid. Its also worth drawing attention to "Day and Then the Shade" which, while being one of the albums most noticeable low points (a forced sounding attempt at a more upbeat number) is more memorable for the HORRENDOUS video that accompanied it, and had nothing to do with Katatonia in the slightest. Before the album was released they had announced they were suffering from a spot of writer's block (a bold admission, to be fair to them) and this is none more apparent to me than in the distinct lack of key musical magician Anders Nystrom's signature melodies and wailing leads that have firmly defined the band's sound up to this point. It just doesn't sound quite right without those guitars snaking their way through the songs in the background. This apparent lack of inspiration is surely the reason why this album seemed to promise so much, and ultimately deliver so little. I did like certain aspects of it right away, and others have grown on me over time, but in my opinion its a definite step down from the previous album. I do enjoy a handful of the tracks ("Forsaker", "Longest Year", "Liberation" for instance) but on the whole I can't bring myself to rate it as highly as I do most of their other albums...something that, believe me, is quite unfortunate.
Katatonia are one in a class of many who I consider bands that improved by being brave enough to lose their cred. By that I mean, a slew of death metal artists emerged from the cold Euro & Scandinavian death metal scene in the '90s to elevate to greater heights once their catharsis was complete and they matured into their own being. Bands like Tiamat, Amorphis, The Gathering, Moonspell and certainly Katatonia cut their teeth in the [semi] traditional death growl world only to morph into exquisite hybrid creations a few albums in. While I find the early works of these bands credible and often enjoyable (Tales from the Thousand Lakes still reigns supreme) it takes courage to risk alienating your core fan base when you know by developing you have so much more to offer yourself and others beyond the niche.
Which brings me to Katatonia, a band who, though brilliant in early incarnations, became iconic as they explored textures, moods and instrumentation during the course of their recording career. Perhaps it was out of vocal necessity that the guttural growls came to be replaced by emotional layers of dim crooning but I for one am thankful for the change. Night Is The New Day achieves that "masterpiece" status that so many artists seek and so many writers throw around casually. This is a legit career defining record of, dare I say, "epic" proportions.
From the earliest crushing intro riff of lead track "Foresaker" which bounces back and forth from a weight that would level the most dense Mastodon guitar rhythm, Katatonia flows effortlessly into a world of moody melancholy. Their ability to shift gears, then bring the two seemingly disparate feelings of the heaviest metallic heft and the tenderest melody into a singular stream where both the mighty and the beautiful flow together. It is a feat repeated countless times throughout the course of the album.
Also of note is the blending of programmed electronic percussion with the bombastic crashing of "real" cymbals and toms. This two pronged approach to beat management is a key element to the "new" Katatonia sound and has managed to widen their fan base to include those who follow doom, death & drone to an outside fringe of alterna-hipsters and goth-esque later day Depeche Mode aficionados who generally might exclaim "Now THIS is metal I can appreciate." I saw this first hand while witnessing them live recently. You could tell for many it was their first "metal" show. While this often raises the ire of those who followed their favorite band since "before they were _" for the sake of the scenes evolution this is paramount and should be encouraged by other openminded hard music lovers. Katatonia unites and this album was the true catalyst for their transition.
Night Is The New Day benefits from a wonderful assortment of acoustic guitars, sparkling synth runs, tasteful strings, progressive polyrhythms and a sullen folkish element that only European acts seem to pull off convincingly. Every single track is a mini voyage into saturnine realms of digital delay and heartfelt voicing. There are no weak links in this chain. The only thing that keeps me from giving it the perfect score is that I wish they had included the superior "Unfurl" from the July single that immediately preceded the release of Night. It was the gateway drug for me to really become addicted to this band I had always dabbled with.
My initial reaction to the previous few Katatonia albums was subdued at first; but while Viva Emptiness has grown on me, into their (previous) best work of the 21st century, The Great Cold Distance remains to me a mild dullard of an album, with no tracks of note that Katatonia had not already done far better years before it. I expected little from their new, 8th album Night is the New Day, but am happy to report that it's a great improvement over its predecessor, and even exceeds Viva Emptiness in quality. It's the best thing they've done since Tonight's Decision, a decade past.
The lineup remains the same, as does much of the style here, but where Night is the New Day succeeds is in the atmosphere, immediately catchy, vibrant but depressing. "Forsaker" rings out of the starting gate with melancholic guitars that trail over its bludgeoning low end. "The Longest Year" toys with some electronic percussion and swelling synth work, almost mesmerizing the listener until the guitars and acoustic drums rage forward below the scintillating keys. "Idle Blood" is a gentle sway of an autumn breeze, a more folksy, prog rock approach for the band that I am accustomed to (Porcupine Tree has written in a similar vein before), but great nonetheless. "Onward Into Battle" fuses submersive, grooving bass with spacial guitars to illicit more sheer atmosphere, while "Liberation" makes work of some uncanny chugging before it calms into beauty, with Renske truly shining in his performance.
"The Promise of Deceit" opens with some warpish synth and ringing guitars, before the bass again plods it into a forward momentum. "Nephilim" is ghostlike, and "New Night" trudges below its delightful pallette of sounds. If the album has a single highlight amidsts its constant flow of excellence, it is the gloomy but melodic "Inheritance", which can make any overcast day that much more profound. "Day and the Shade" is the heaviest track on the album, and "Departer" offers more of the bass groove and haunting atmospheres through its shrill synth lines and Nyström's irresistable guitar work.
Night is the New Day rules, and may or may not be Katatonia's finest hour. It is certainly their most mature, and while they do sacrifice some of the heavier crunch of their past, it in no way hinders the quality of the songwriting or the depth of its intentions. It's 'emo', but in the right way. The album sounds huge, technically and profesionally on par with anything else being produced this year. If the band hasn't already pushed out beyond their metal fanbase of yet, this is the album that certainly will accomplish it. Katatonia could tour with Radiohead or Coldplay for this album...and I'm not saying that like it's a bad thing.
Almost two years have passed since I wrote the original review for this. I've learned to better understand Katatonia's newfound (well, since "Brave Murder Day", that is) sense of moodiness and songwriting path, but, that being said, I still can't find "Night is the New Day" good enough to match the standards the band set for itself.
They still sound like they are kind of at a loss about what to do with their ideas. Years ago, they impressed me with their debut; It was a strange, moody and genuinely dark piece of music, carrying a bleak atmosphere that became this band's main selling point until now, when they decided to become some sort of Porcupine Tree/Opeth hybrid, a stupid decision that brought their creative input to its knees, making this new incarnation of Katatonia dull. And apparently it is suffering from an identity crisis too.
"Night is the New Day" is their 2009 album, and it’s boring. As I stated early, their talent is evident, but they just cannot focus enough of it on actual songwriting... it’s like a concentrated drop of liquid that spreads all around when it hits the ground. Every song follows the predictable structure of soft verse and then a hard chorus, sometimes connected by a bridge containing haphazard riffing, weird electronic spacey sounds or both. Opeth's patchy 'songwriting' style is all over the place here, and it’s SCREAMING “LOOK HOW PROGRESSIVE WE ARE! WE ARE SO ATMOSPHERIC ! SUCK ON THAT, MODERN MUSIC ! ”. I really, really don’t need this. Katatonia always had proggy bits, but boy, are we getting a little bit lost here.
I’d like to discuss some vocals now. Jonas Renkse - an otherwise capable singer - decides to fall into the trap of trying to make his voice sound like a mix between Steven Wilson's deadpan, sleepwalker-esque crooning and Akerfeldt's somber vocals but ends up in a middle-ground where his natural voice just doesn't shine at all and sounds really underwhelming. It is not atonal or grating, but instead of sounding depressed or sorrowful, Jonas seems to be bored out of his mind, thus boring the listener as well. I'm not asking for desperate-sounding screeches, but a little bit of change would be nice.
Singing is a beautiful but (at times) subjective art. Obviously I don't think you need absurd amounts of technique to sing Katatonia's songs, and I believe we are all aware that THIS is what makes this band different, vocal-wise. Jonas has a really nice timbre, but the problem is that it isn't necessarily enough. In the past, he has shown us range ("Sleeper") and a sense of urgency and energy ("Criminals") and, why not, simple (from a technical standpoint) but hands-down beautiful singing (“Omerta”). Here, we have pretty much no dynamics whatsoever, and this is also where most of my criticism over Porcupine Tree rests. If Renkse decided to emulate Akerfeldt for the soothing little ballad “Idle Blood”, he chose Steven Wilson for the rest of the album. Man, if you need some sleep, do it BEFORE you record the vocal tracks, not while you’re doing it.
I still keep my original opinion that Blakkheim sounds too dead here. It’s a musician running on autopilot, churning out nothing but random clean arpeggios, not very creative nu-metal riffs and witless leads that go nowhere and appear to have no context within the songs. And I’m not saying this because the leads are simple (“My Twin” had a simple but very effective lead under the chorus), but because they are too sterile for a Katatonia record. I now correct my original mistake of thinking he’s responsible for every guitar part here (Jonas did a lot of ‘em), but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the leads sound like an afterthought, just like the tired, uninspired bass lines.
Also, the drums seem to be in an endless battle against the guitars to see which is the most lifeless of them all, and I can't quite make out the winner because I’m being constantly annoyed by this really grating off-beat hi-hat. Man, this is awful. STOP trying to mimic Porcupine Tree's crazy drummer and focus on a beat that goes well with the song!
I changed the score from 40% to 55% because I got a little bit more tolerant with this kind of "depressive" music, but that still doesn’t mean it is not brutally underwhelming… Except for some good stuff! The production, for starters, is absolutely fantastic, being potent and way less sterile than the one that brought many good moments of “The Great Cold Distance” down. The guitars have an immense, powerful sound and the drums are mixed to a near-perfect state, winning 10 to 1 against the weak tone in “Viva Emptiness”. Keyboards lines are very competent, never intrusive and always working to augment the moody atmosphere that the dreary guitar playing cannot showcase anymore. If this album had a shitty production, I would have hammered it to hell. Other than that, the cover art is amazing.
But I can’t forget the fact that a couple of songs do bring out a little bit of the Katatonia I love:
“Nephilim” glides effortlessly between spine-tingling riffs and very calm moments; the weird ‘lalala’ part being especially creepy, while “Liberation” picks up the pace a little bit and greets us with an exceptional verse and the best nu-metal riff of the entire album at the middle break. When it first starts as a discreet keyboard line, I knew these guys would do the right thing and build it into the monstrously crushing riff it becomes. See, this is Katatonia being non-technical, yet really damn effective. “Onwards into Battle” features a deeply memorable chorus. Beautifully layered, it gives us perfect atmosphere and harmony between vocals and keyboards, a FANTASTIC beat and a guitar line that sounds so alive it could raise a rainforest out of the fucking Sahara. When I listen to this chorus, I get both happy and pissed off. Why couldn’t they write more stuff like this? Jesus!
I don’t know what Katatonia has truly attempted here and we are still in the dark about what is their next step. Will they effectively bring back the interesting guitar parts and give Jonas some coffee? Will they keep on going with this slow, plodding mish-mash? We don’t know. When this band finds a real purpose and a real sense of identity, then maybe we can all hope once again for a truly memorable release.
Highlights; “Forsaker”, “Liberation”, the chorus to “Onward into Battle”, “Nephilim”, “Idle Blood”.
‘Night Is The New Day’ was an unforeseen surprise for many reasons. Listening to the introduction to ‘Forsaker’, I always feel that the opening and main riff for the entire song, which sees the band use a fair amount of stuttering repetition, is very metallic. This record signifies to me that Katatonia have totally lost their metal edge and definitely remember their roots going back to the old doom laden days and darker atmospheric tendencies on ‘Discouraged Ones’. Having just seen Katatonia live last month in London, I have developed more of an appreciation for this record, as it took me some time to get used to the idea that they were going to be somewhat metallic in approach, alternative and perhaps slightly avant-gardé. According to most people who have managed to catch the Swedes live more than once, they normally take a few songs to get going and are quite slow to draw a positive response from the crowd, despite the wealth of experience on the shoulders of the musicians but, having witnessed them in London recently, most people at the gig, if not all, would agree that the line-up changes which have recently sent shockwaves through the band and their fans have had a positive affect on their performances in a live setting.
Although Per Eriksson and Niklas Sandin are only session members, performing on tour with the band, there is a feeling that Katatonia were in desperate need of a change. Although we’re used to hearing a change in sound, from one record to another, the band seemingly required a line-up change to give them the boost they needed to perform well in front of an avid audience who were lapping up everything the band had to offer, particularly the performance of ‘Omerta’, which saw the jubilant crowd sing along to the upbeat lyrics. I mention the live performance because, obviously, the line-up change will affect future releases. Maybe this is the end of what we have come to know as the modern Katatonia with records like ‘Night Is The New Day’ and a wind of change which will alter the entire progression of the band. Initially, after listening to this record on repeat in preparation for the live performance, I felt that something needed to be done that would alter the way Katatonia approached a full-length studio release. In terms of the approach on this record, it’s pretty much the same as the previous one’s in recent times.
The occasional song, like ‘Idle Blood’, takes on a more open approach, rather than the close fisted aggressor that the introduction to ‘Forsaker’ becomes. The vocals for the former can also be akin to that of ‘Viva Emptiness’, taking the melodious style to similar levels, though never overtaking what Katatonia achieved on that monumental piece. The backing vocals which occur on this song are fine, though not exactly necessary. I felt the same in a live setting, too. Jonas is more than capable at leading the front line alone and I didn’t think the backing vocals were essential as they don’t add much to the performance. They’re very softly spoken, though on other tracks they’re much more hard hitting, thus filtering into the background without showcasing much emotion or value. Vocally, the record is as Katatonia have always been. The vocals remain clean and Jonas remains able to dictate the listeners emotions with his traumatic lyrical themes and expression of loss, regret and self-exploration as things around us begin to collapse and our worlds alter drastically. ‘Onward Into Battle’ is a particularly rousing number when it comes to the vocals and instrumentation. In a live setting, once again, this song proved to be epic.
The instrumentation was often majestic with the bass remaining audible over the smooth production. The previous record, ‘The Great Cold Distance’, seemed to be trapped between being the aggressor and remaining passive. This record however, manages to switch between several different stylistic approaches with less fuss given the fantastic production qualities with songs like ‘Onward Into Battle’ having amazing choruses which stir a magnitude of emotions within the listener given their emotional readiness. For songs like this, Katatonia have even adopted a symphonic sound (performed by a session musician), though this is never overbearing. It occurs beneath the rest of the instrumentation and vocals, but definitely adds a new dimension to the style of the song and indeed the band as a whole. The song writing has been somewhat changed, though not completely overhauled. The metallic additions, as well as the symphonic touches are a nice, unpredictable part of the new sound, but this record isn’t without its occasional run-in with mediocrity, as songs like ‘Nephilim’ show. Though this song contains the aforementioned qualities, the direction seems lackadaisical and the vocals far too lazy to rouse the listener up from his or her feet in order to give a rapturous round of applause. Regardless of how average this song is, the rest of the record is simply a continuation of the well worked Katatonia experimentation.
After discovering Katatonia's Viva Emptiness around the time The Great Cold Distance was making waves, I had two albums to sift through before this release, and figured that would be time enough for them to release one for me to continue in my discovery of the band... Turns out I was wrong however, and I was forced to wait inordinate amounts of time for this album, following that damn mini-site and their facebook updates, salivating all the while. And now, after listening to the album over and over and over for about a month; (and god help me, I can't believe I'm saying this) it was indeed worth that wait.
Forsaker was the first song I heard off the album, thanks to Peaceville's kindness via an early and free download. As soon as I heard the song (which is also the opener) I fell in love with it. Beyond that, repeated listens revealed this track’s true brilliance, Renske's vocals are still the beautifully sparse beast that they have always managed to be, throughout the heavy chorus and supremely melodic and melancholic verses. Plus, produced to Katatonia's usual perfection, synths that decorate the chorus are one of the best touches to a song I've heard in a long time. Progressing on, the album at first seems to be the natural extension of The Great Cold Distance’s sleek and produced sound, however, once I got to “Nephilim” I had to rethink this, the song is definitely a throwback to their “Brave Murder Days” era, yet still ties in with this album. Going back to te other songs after that, you could undoubtedly hear that influence of blending old and new material throughout all the songs. All of this making it their best effort, by and large, since Discouraged Ones.
The comparison to Opeth that many fans have made (specifically with the third track “Idle Blood”) is not unfounded, but that’s not to say that it’s not good, as what Opeth could strew across 8 plus minutes (again, not a bad thing, all depends on your taste), Katatonia renders into a four minute version of one of those songs, making it brilliant all the while. That’s not to say that you can’t help but be listening for Mikael Arkerfeldt to pop his head up at any point during this song, but it’s an excellent listen anyways. If however, the intensely similar is something that will put you off the album, no worries, that tracks is where the comparisons end. The following while marking that distinctive bleakness Katatonia has always been both renowned and revered for.
Standout tracks for me personally, asides from afore mentioned opener “Forsaker”, “Promise of Deceit” blends several emotions and aural sensations into a terse (not rushed), four minute experience. “Departer” as the closer sends the album off with guest vocalist Linder front and center. This track is one of Katatonia’s best lyrically, and musically is a cool blend of the style we saw with “Unfurl” (off of the July single) and some Antimatter-esque ambient. For sure one you’ll want to check out. Or, just take my word for it and buy the whole album, since it is without doubt one of 2009's shining moments.
It's getting too often now that I fail to be impressed by the albums that arrive with the heaviest weights of expectancy and glorification and its making me wonder - am I harder to please than most, or, do I just not fall for all the pretences and band/label statements that seem to catch everyone else out? With these thoughts ringing throughout I am here to give Katatonia's eighth LP, "Night is the New Day", an honest spin and review based upon the thoughts of a long-time Katatonia fan without the pressure of pleasing band nor label behind me.
I'll start as I mean to go on to you, without mincing my words. I did not like 2006's "The Great Cold Distance" at the time of release and still don't now; an album that seems to be regarded in many circles as, if not their finest, then one of Katatonia's very best works. An album that I believe simply lacks the dynamics and verve of three previous Katatonia outings, all of which I can call with confidence nigh on classics: "Brave Murder Day", "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and "Viva Emptiness". Part of Katatonia's ongoing appeal down the years has been their refusal to be restricted and a willingness to diversify and migrate from record to record. However not since the "Discouraged Ones" and "Tonight's Decision" pairing in 1998 and 1999 do I feel Katatonia have travelled so little between records as I do this and "The Great Cold Distance".
"Viva Emptiness" knocked the melancholy notion, made up of part heavy riffing and part antique-like fragility and emotion, on the head given the continuing movement of feels and tempos right through that excellent album. As I sit here now and listen to the increasingly Opeth-like proggy keyboard/synth structures of Katatonia circa 2009 I simply can't help but feel bored. The Swedes rose to unexplored levels of prominence via songs of depression and sadness cloaked in a warm facade of genuinely sad moments of music but all we have now are songs with this desire and little deeper meaning. Unlike Opeth who have always expertly mixed 'soft' and 'heavy' within the structure of one song, Katatonia take the time to dedicate each song to either one of these tempos, with little variation in style between each. These 'heavy' sections, like "The Great...", come across limp and strangely dependent on a hangover of down-tuned bassy nu-metal inspired riffs, but it is the soft moments of "Night..." that are the real let-down for me. "Inheritance" has it's moments and would be the best candidate as a song to break up two significantly heavier ones either side, but "Departer", "Idle Blood" (which, through the breezy synth backing sounds like a band at peace with the world) and "Nephilim" do not offer significant enough variation to warrant this LP every over-taking other highlighted Katatonia albums in a fight for a place in my CD player.
And so it is with these thoughts I finish another listen-through to "Night is the New Day". The similarities in song structures and song lengths (8 of the 11 tracks are between 4:16 and 4:38 long) are not leaving the lasting impression I was hoping for from a band whose track record stands them impeccably high and so I must depart with my own feelings of sadness and despondency, though not the ones I believe Katatonia were hoping to tap into with "Night is the New Day".
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Night Is The New Day is an enthralling album. My instincts tell me I should be appalled at the further evisceration of metal from the Katatonia sound. I want to be upset that this is the least guitar oriented album in the Katatonia catalog. I've battled back and forth with myself on the merits of NITND for a while now. In the end, whatever I find lacking in the instrumentation is outweighed by the overall result. At the very least, this is the vocal performance of Jonas Renske's career. He has achieved something startling here as a songwriter. The album is a coherent, consistent and self contained vision of Katatonia's future.
On NITND, the majority of the songs are driven by keys, atmospheric sythesizers and clean guitar lines. Heavy guitars are used as more of an accent, and the guitars in general are no longer the backbone of the music. The drums are muted in the mix and often digitized. I think the result is quite different from anything Katatonia have thus far achieved.
"Foresaker," widely circulated as a sampler, opens the album with what is essentially false advertising. It’s the heaviest song on NITND, and it's also the only one that offers an aesthetic continuation of The Great Cold Distance. An infectious rhythmic guitar line accompanies fantastic vocals. Jonas’ voice is pitch perfect and perfectly morose. "The Longest Year" formally introduces us to the new Katatonia sound, with digitized drums, sparse clean guitars and strings. The heavy part sports a distorted, bendy riff, but the synths still overshadow it in the mix.
On "Idle Blood" Jonas manages to do a near perfect impression of Mikael Åkerfeldt's clean singing. That should give you some indication of how great his voice sounds on this album. The song has a Porcupine Tree vibe, with an extra helping of mournful sorrow. "A black state of mind" indeed.
"The Promise of Deceit" features an ingenious syncopated guitar riff that Jonas follows in a dispassionate monotone. "Nephilim" starts with an awesome vocal line, harmonized with a wailing guitar riff. "Day And Then The Shade" has some heavy guitars and keys that make me think of middle-era Dark Tranquillity. Every bit of this album is dripping in melancholic depression. Astoundingly, NITND might be the darkest thing Katatonia have ever created.
The album is beautifully crafted, with incredibly clean and concise production. When it comes down to it, I suppose NITND embodies more pop sensibility than you'd expect. I keep thinking of the last Peter Gabriel album, Up; everything here is really a vehicle for Jonas' vocals. And it works. A handful of memorable guitar riffs can be found throughout the songs, but it's the vocals that will linger in your head. I can't help but like this album, no matter what my metal sensibilities tell me. I think that's the point.
Originally published here: http://atanamar.blogspot.com/
If I had to rate Katatonia’s discography through a bar-graph, it would start with the highest point on the left, but move forward in a consistent slope downwards. This is their latest album. [Pause] Luckily though, this slope that I speak of, isn’t THAT steep; and that’s what makes this album still worth a couple of listens. The reason why there is a slope is because they’ve been eliminating all heavy and harsh aspects of their music, reaching an experimentation peak with the unusually upbeat Viva Emptiness (funny title, eh?), an album I’m not too fond of. A band which started out as a unique mixture of death-doom-atmosphere-metal is now a purely depressive rock band. This is not meant to imply that they’re bad at depressive rock, but they’re just better when they keep the metal in. Besides, if your audience is primarily, wait, completely comprised of metalheads, you’re bound to get lower ratings, and this ladies and gentlemen, is case with this extremely talented bunch of musicians collectively called Katatonia.
One of the few problems I can identify in this album is that all songs have pretty much the exact same tempo and offer little variation in terms of tone. They’re not repeating the same tunes as such, but since there’s only one mood/feel explored, it’s hard to tell because the whole thing sounds too similar i.e. there are no stand-out tracks. Why on earth would a band capable of something like Dance of December Souls voluntarily choose to create something like this? Anyway, moving forward, the slight lack of originality is another thing that’s bothering me. Katatonia has always been complimentary to Opeth, Opeth fans like Katatonia and vice-versa; but there are some moments in here that remind me too much of Opeth. The biggest example is the third track, Idle blood, which seems to have taken Burden’s [Watershed] tempo and put Porcelain Heart’s [Again, Watershed] vocal lines. That’s when you realise that the clean vocals are almost consitently like Mikael Akerfeldt’s. Idle blood happens to be the third track on this album and the first one to trigger your ‘dislike’ impulse, from there on, it’s all the same and they actually make the first two tracks look good.
Yet another disappointment is the drums. Utterly uninteresting and monotonous, they too fail to bring anything real on the table, the last thing you’d expect from Katatonia. I guess the word that best describes this album is ‘boring’. The term is used very often and may convey different meanings, but despite it’s subjectivity, it still has a meaning, and that is what unfortunately suits to defines this album very perfectly.
It was hard to top The Great Cold Distance. It was one of their best albums, alongside Last Fair Deal Gone Down, with incredible musicianship & production. Not to mention, Jonas's vocals were on top of his game, and he's Katatonia's most important member. I awaited the album impatiently, and was not disappointed in the least when I had the opportunity to hear it in full. The single was out way before the release, and had built up in me a great deal of expectation for the full album.
Where does one start with the album? The usual Katatonia formula is present throughout, with Jonas topping his last performance even. Yes, that is possible. This is his best vocal work yet, and that is saying a lot considering the fantastic performance he gave on the last album, Discouraged Ones & Last Fair Deal Gone Down. One listen to The Longest Year, Idle Blood (which just so happens to be one of the band’s most distinct songs yet), Inheritance and Departer show just how much the man has improved his delivery. Very, very emotive singing and an excellent vocalist as a whole.The musicianship is top notch as well. However, the album’s probably the band’s most different in a while. Not to say they have abandoned their signature depressive doom rock sound, but have now experimented with a lot more emotive one, going deeper into the doom rock genre, with a lot of emphasis on a cleaner attack as opposed to a distorted one, as in the previous album, which was dominated by heavy riffs mostly throughout the running time.
The prime example is Idle Blood. The previous reviewer mentioned it was reminiscent of Opeth, and that is quite right. But as opposed to Opeth, Katatonia manages to do in four minutes what that band strives for in ten or even a fifteen minute song. Mikael was right in saying he almost cried, or did cry, for I don’t remember, while hearing the record, because he realized that Katatonia managed to pull off the exact same sound without meandering pointlessly. The vocals remind me of Mikael as well, and it can be said the entire song is inspired by their work, with excellent background acoustics and Jonas giving his all.
The band continues to impress throughout, but one song stands out the most in the album, and that is Inheritance. Easily the best track on the album and it has many, many good tracks on it. It can be compared with something on Discouraged Ones, for it is highly melancholic and low-key. In fact, it would be a Discouraged Ones b-track even, and that’s awesome as that album was their last HIGHLY depressing effort. One should be prepared for the track as it can lead to many tears being shed.
Overall, the album is another excellent outing. The band has never disappointed me once, which cannot be said of any other band I have heard. I can only imagine what Katatonia has in store for their next effort, whenever that may arrive. Highly recommended.
I met Katatonia’s music when I got Viva Emptiness in a random buy (I tend to do that sometimes). I quickly became a fan of the band after listening to it and then The Great Cold Distance (being these two my favorite albums and the ones I will compare this new album to the most). Later the other albums (except the first two ones) kicked in as well. So I had BIG expectations for the new album plus there was a lot of hype from the band on how they had written the “heaviest” songs and then the mini-site, etc, but when it finally came out… well read on.
The album opens with Forsaker, which was the first and only song they let everybody listen to before the album came out. At first I was not quite into this song, but it grew on me as I waited for the whole thing. It has very catchy riffs and a powerful chorus as well as some very good synths. The second track is as good as Forsaker, it shares the same songwriting. So far I was convinced this would be another good album, until “Idle Blood” began. I am going to describe this song in one word (yes, you guessed right): Opeth. Now, most people would say “Opeth?, cool!.” Well I did not mean the good Opeth, this track sounds like a Deliverance out-take that didn’t make it for being repetitive and boring. Jonas (the singer) does not even sound like him, I swear that I mistake him for Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth’s singer) in this song. This is a slow-driven tune with clean guitars, repetitive drums and no hook at all. From this point, the rest of the listener can follow a pattern throughout the album: on heavy song, one slow song, one heavy song, one slow song, and so on. This make’s the album too cyclic and kind of cliché since one can predict the next song. There are three mediocre songs right in the middle of the album, which are tracks 4, 6 and 7. Concerning the good songs, riffs are quite interesting, but not as heavy or creative as in Viva Emptiness and The Great Cold Distance [now on: VE and TGCD]. Vocals are quite good too, but there are no growls at all. Bass is there… and drums are kind of weak. I do not know what happened to the band’s drummer in this album but it seems like he lost all his magic. I remember quite well his fills in VE and TGCD … well that is not here. One thing that is kind of annoying in most of the songs is that he keeps playing the hi-hat off-beat. That is quite a good technique, but only if you use it for certain parts, not in almost every song…
Some words on the bad and the mediocre tracks. The songs I cannot stand are tracks 3, 9 and 11. These songs are all very similar, as I said before, slow songs, clean guitars, very mellow and boring! It is really hard to explain the frustration I feel when I listen to them, but if that was their goal, they have no doubt succeeded in doing so. Honestly, these feel like filler songs. I think they might have made the trick in a 15/16-song album where the extra 3/4 songs are really good, but in this album, these slow and boring songs come too often, and they kill the vibe that the catchy ones had created. About the mediocre songs (tracks 4, 6, 7), they all share the same formula: verses are like on the bad ones and choruses are as powerful as in the enjoyable ones. So expect the following: heavy or slow intro, slow verse (clean arpeggios), heavy chorus, slow verse, heavy chorus, etc. That is why I feel these songs are just OK; they seem to be half-way to being great. It is like they had a good idea but then were too lazy to finish it.
Let’s talk about production. As usual, Katatonia has always had great shit in the production department; this album is not the exception. Guitars’ tone is as good as in VE and TGCD, pretty crunchy and distorted, yet clear enough to be understandable. There are a lot of clean electric guitars which sound really good as usual, plus some acoustic guitars (on Idle Blood, for example) that sound great too. Bass is there making everything fat enough. Drums are quite tight and full, nice sounding, specially the snare drum. Vocals sound quite well too. There are some synths and effects as usual which make some songs a little more interesting.
Finally, one last thing, I remember reading in Katatonia’s website before the album came out that they said they had written some of their heaviest and most melodic stuff (or something similar). Well, there is no song heavier than the songs in VE and TGCD and probably not even heavier than songs in the rest of their albums. There are heavy songs, yeah, but not “the heaviest songs” when compared to the rest of Katatonia’s music. I guess the other part of that sentence is true. Oh, get the bonus track, it is a nice song that no-one should miss considering how many boring songs this album has. Too bad they switched the order and put it as track 11, leaving “Departer” as track 12, which is a great way to kill an album (it is one of the boring songs). I have always thought that an album has to have 3 pillars: one of the best songs has to be in the beginning of the album (to capture the listeners attention), another good song has to be in the middle (to keep him/her focused and interested) and the last song has to be really good or even as good as the other two mentioned (to give the album good closure)