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My experience with metal bands going all depressive rock has been quite limited but positive. I guess it didn't work for Agalloch but Sentenced sure did a good job with 'The Cold White Light', Amorphis's last few, progressively more-rocky albums have been quite enjoyable and while I haven't heard anything else Katatonia have done, this also seems to be another success.
Not a perfect album, by any means, but it's still a pretty enjoyable album. It seems that Katatonia have found a little niche- some sort of dirgey, melancholy atmospheric rock that's almost like A Perfect Circle with bigger balls and a less annoying vocalist- and executed it extremely well. The band really knows what they're doing- the arrangements are pretty impeccable, really- 'Rusted' being a particularly excellent example of the impeccable guitar interplay on offer here, and the keyboards are also quite excellent, constantly supplying some sort of excellent background filling- the old 'hold down a bunch of keys for a while' style of keyboard playing has never sounded so good. And we're not even up to the vocals yet. Quite simply, I think the vocals are excellent- super silky and smooth, vaguely yet not completely gay and effeminate (Neige, take notes), with a curious mix of emotion and some sort of world weary indifference.
No doubt that it's all well done, but that's certainly not to say there's no flaws within this record. his talk about 'Katatonia have got a formula and stuck to it' often works well, but they do it to a fault, really- the songs follow some pretty similar structures, and certainly the dynamics shift become extremely predictable after a few songs. As with many depressive rock bands, it becomes difficult over time to really tell when songs start and end- certainly this genre isn't about huge dynamic shifts, but it would be nice if some of the rocking parts genuinely rocked out, instead of getting a bit louder but constantly staying all polite and courteous.
And that bring us to the main problem with this album, really. The production isn't really too flattering with this album- the heavy parts never really getting loud enough to really crush, whereas the clean parts don't really offer enough variation to keep it all terribly interesting. Whoever mastered this did a pretty freaking job, with everything just kinda sinking into a pleasant but bland mush. More dynamics would've been excellent, and it's a real shame that the production is as commercial as it is.
Still, I'm normally of the belief that production can't kill an album unless if it's really bad- and that certainly applies here. Katatonia still manage to whip up some pretty powerful moments here and there (The Itch and Rusted being good examples here), and while in many cases the songs do tend to drag a bit and get a bit bland, there's no denying that is well executed atmospheric rock stuff - certainly, bands like Alcest and Agalloch could take a leaf or two from some of the songwriting techniques and arrangements that are on display here. Not exactly an essential album, but it's kind of interesting and I'll be checking out their older stuff, fo' reals.