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The Great Cold Distance is Katatonia's seventh full-length release, and it serves as another chapter in Katatonia's fascinating musical journey. It builds on their previous album, Viva Emptiness, by continuing to move away from death metal and by embracing a more melodic approach. While this has somewhat alienated a number of fans of their earlier music, it has opened them up to a much wider audience; namely fans of alternative or progressive music.
A key aspect to this broader appeal is the many elements of different music that is brought together, and as such this makes the band slightly difficult to categorise. Are they death metal? Definitely not on this release, though there are some growls they are more for background effect as opposed to actual vocal lines. Are they doom metal? Debatably yes, though they bear no resemblance to doomsters such as Candlemass or Cathedral, they certainly have elements of the genre, such as the slow, heavy songs and the moody lyrics. Are they progressive metal? It can safely be said that they certainly have progressive tendencies, as in the sudden tempo/rhythm changes they employ, and also the use of unconventional time signatures and song structures. Are they depressive rock? Yes and no. They are undoubtedly still a metal band, and although they do have softer and more commercial songs on this release, every song has heavy metal qualities, which makes up the bulk of the album's content.
The main improvement of this album over its predecessor is its consistency. Although Viva Emptiness was a good release, it was plagued by a lot of filler: for every good song, there was an average one. The Swedes have definately fixed that problem on this album, as every song ranges from good to excellent. The production has also been upgraded, as this album genuinely does sound immaculate. Every cymbal clash, every strum of the bass and every whisper from vocalist Jonas Renske is crystal clear, and also balanced perfectly in the mix; nothing gets drowned out. In fact just about everything has been improved: the musicianship, the song writing and even the artwork are all superior to Viva Emptiness.
A special note must be made for the lyrics. Renske hinted at his greatness with the previous record, but here he really does deliver. The words he sings are both crushingly saddening, and at the same time darkly beautiful and poetic. His tales of woe, from the loss of friends to the themes of mental anguish and insanity, are as immensely creative as they are depressing. The man obviously knows how to write songs for himself, as his vocals are delivered with great success: they are never strained, and while he doesn't exactly have the broadest range out there, his soft, serene voice really does the job of complimenting the music perfectly.
The guitars range from the very heavy, with great use of distortion, to the very gentle. The way that the guitars interweave reminds me of Argus-era Wishbone Ash, and although that might come as a surprise to some, just compare the two and you will see. The drums also do a good job: similar to the guitars, they are pounding at one minute, then the next they disappear as the music transforms. Daniel Liljekvist never overplays, which is a smart move, as this isn't the sort of music to show off your amazing drumming skills with.
As with all albums of course, it has its faults, though they are petty. The bass can be heard, but it doesn't seem to do enough for the music. I get the feeling that had it been made a tiny bit louder, it would have benefitted greatly. Also, I feel that a bass solo or two could have added to the dark overtone of the album, but like I said, it's not a big issue. Also the inclusion of the track 'In The White' puzzles me: it has no standout moments, and it pales in comparison to the bonus tracks contained within the special edition, 'Displaced' and 'Dissolving Bonds', which are both above-average tunes.
All in all, a great release from a great band. It's good to see Katatonia developing their own, unique sound, which they have definitely done with this record. This is a highly recommended album, and it should appeal to fans of both progressive and doom metal. 9/10.