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There seems to be a certain trend in metal right now: Bands that once possessed a doom/death sound have switched gears and gone into rock territory. Agalloch displayed this with the overt post-rock influence on "The Mantle", and Amorphis have been hinting at it for years. Katatonia have done it more subtly, though. (And also the best, I think.) The overall sound became easier on the ears, and Jonas eventually ditched the growls for more emotional and versatile clean vocals. "The Great Cold Distance" is Katatonia's coming-of-age album for their new sound. While some older efforts with rock-ish vibes may have seemed forced or stale, this album is chock full of musical density and sincerity to keep one entertained for a while. There is still a fair amount of experimentation here, clearly displayed in the use of programmed beats on the verses of "Increase", and the echoing, painful notes that ring in the background during the chorus of "Deliberation." Some tracks, however, are fairly straight-forward and are still heavy in their own rights. (Ex: "Leaders", "Consternation")
It's clear to see that the band spent a while writing these songs and paid great attention to detail and small nuances. Though many of the songs follow a very loose verse/chorus structure, nothing is kept the same; vocal patterns change, a new guitar line enters the mix, or the drum line changes. Speaking of which, the drumwork is incredibly tasteful here; subtle accents on the hi-hat and bell add some flair, and carefully calculated, dextrous fills smoothly transition the song's passages. Overall, the style is strong and progressive; it goes without saying that the drum sound is fresh and clear, and is definitely one of the album's high point. Back to the songwriting, though; Katatonia have reached a point of artistic maturity in this style that is not often seen. It may not be their best album by many standards, but it is certainly a new chapter and realization in the band's discography.
Other nuances lie within the production. Although there are many effects on the guitars, none of the alterations affect the album's scope in a negative way. Reverb-riddled notes ring in the background, dramatic stop-start cycles of pounding power chords give a sense of urgency, and softly plucked passages of clean guitars pay a bit of homage to Katatonia's old sound. The mood given off can only be described as introspective: Bittersweet, frustrated, depressed, and detached are only a few words to describe the states of being here. Jonas is the main purveyor of these moods, and is totally on top of his game. Lyrically, Katatonia has never been better. Every word is written with true sincerity and passion, and most of the lyrics are memorable on their own stance. Personal themes are explored, delving into subjects of seperation from loved ones and inner turmoil. Jonas' voice is also at its peak here; it's more dynamic, and is able to adapt to the quieter sections with ease while maintaining the power it needs on songs like "My Twin" and "In the White."
The bass plays a pretty important role here. Rather than functioning as a background ambience, it is a totally independent instrument and weaves interesting patterns around the rest of the band. In its standalone moments, such as the verse of "Increase," the bass adds more depth to the overall sound. As everything comes together, it envelopes the listener in a swirling haze of catharsis and a sense of melancholy.
"The Great Cold Distance" stands as a true landmark album in Katatonia's catalog. Highly recommended.
Favorite tracks: "Deliberation", "My Twin", "Rusted", "Increase", "In the White."