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Katatonia has been a band I’ve enjoyed listening to ever since I first heard of them, and I’ve also come to enjoy their evolution from monolithic Doom-Death act to the present style of depressive rock, or whatever you want to call it. Among Katatonia’s modern albums, I’ve enjoyed Discouraged Ones and Last Fair Deal Gone Down the most. Tonight’s Decision has its moments but I’ve always felt it lacked depth and consistency. Viva Emptiness was a good album, but one that I have a certain ambivalence for. Which brings us to The Great Cold Distance.
This is a release I bought not long after it was first released, I hadn’t even bothered to download it beforehand, such was my confidence that this band wouldn’t disappoint. Well, sadly, after listening to this several times and trying to like it, I must say I have been disappointed.
The first track, Leaders, is a good example to take. It opens the disc and soon we’re reintroduced to all the familiar modern-Katatonia trademarks: rousing, memorable choruses, an equally memorable guitar melody that repeats throughout the song, and predictable verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-repeat chorus song structure. While this is probably one of the better songs on the disc, the songs that follow don’t quite live up to the justified hype this band has garnered over the past few years.
One of the traits I’ve enjoyed about modern Katatonia has been Anders Nystrom’s guitar leads, he’s had such an uncanny knack of writing guitar melodies that are memorable yet sorrowful as well, without being overly dramatic or flashy. One of the changes on this disc lies in the production. The rhythm guitars are emphasized, and this is done to the detriment of Nystrom’s leads. Most of his leads are buried under the electronics and the muddy, downtuned and unoriginal rhythm guitar. I’m very disappointed with the rhythm sound as I’m sure they meant it to sound assertive (I remember Jonas in an interview saying the wanted a heavier sound with Viva Emptiness because they felt Creed sounded closer to metal than they did at the time!), but the sound is so muddy and the playing so unoriginal (nothing but power chords played with the subtlety of a 12 year old playing an electric guitar for the first time) I sometimes find myself looking at the CD cover to make sure I’m listening to Katatonia and not some nu-“metal” band.
Although there are some new musical elements scattered throughout, consisting mostly of keyboards, programming, downtuned and processed guitars and vocals. Despite these somewhat new additions, nothing really seems new. On all of Katatonia’s release, there was always an air of freshness, a sense of progression. It seems they’ve integrated these new techniques just for the sake of doing something “new”. They don’t seem to have assimilated these new changes into their sound and as a result, a lot of the programming and electronic tinkering sticks out like a sore thumb. Only the song Consternation seems to have integrated the new elements well.
As the album drags on, there’s an apparent lack of freshness and energy. Jonas Renske’s vocals lack passion and conviction which had been a hallmark of his vocal style. But on this album he seems to be just going through the motions. Even during the moving choruses on this disc he lacks his usual energy and conviction. This is a fatal shortcoming if you’re music is as emotional as Katatonia’s has been over the years.
I don’t know what else to say other than I think this band is capable of far better. There are some good songs on this disc and by most band’s standards this isn’t a terrible release, its certainly better than the sappy, melodramatic fluff that Anathema’s doing nowadays, but compared to what this band has done before, this is a big disappointment. If anyone reading this is looking for an introduction to this band, I suggest you avoid this and look into their rich back catalogue.