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Katatonia first full lengtht album, Dance of the December Souls, was undoubtedly a landmark record on the death/doom scene. And it's a killer album. Their slow, emotional, powerful, and painful (in a good way) songs wore a very different vest of what their sound is now. They slowly started to discard completely their roots and turn to a more atmospheric/depressive rock with a few metal tinges.
To put things simply, listening to this album gave me a terrible headache. I simply had to stop listening to it when reviewing because my head was hurting too much. And I was actually pretty deep into the “experience”, listening to 10 of the 13 songs in a row. I had to finish the album later.
The best way I can describe their sound is as “Flatmospheric”. It's a goddamn awful album, for there's nothing remotely attractive on it. The guitar work ranges from stupid pseudo-heavy riffs to atrociously bad clean leads, the keyboards usually make annoying layers of atmosphere that don't add nothing on the songs, and the bass, when it comes to the front, only does some uninspired lines. The drums are standard rock with some faster fills and are boring as hell, but the worst is yet to come.
I first listened to Jonas Renske's voice on Ayreon's album 01011001. His calm, mellow delivery didn't made a enormous impact on me, but I confess I liked his voice because differently from the other vocalists on that album, he was sort of the black sheep among those powerful throats (and his lines on that record someway fit with his character in the concept, being much darker and more pessimistic than the other characters on the album, but that's another story). But his delivery on this album is iconoclastically terrible. He sings with absolutely no traces of emotion in the most apathy-ridden way possible, and worse, the vocal melodies are bad, just like the guitar riffs or everything else. He's not the worst vocalist on the metal/rock scene (cough...Brent Hinds...cough), but his performance here is definitely to forget.
Speaking about the songs, they are redundant because they all sound the same: torture. The best song on the album is Omerta, a cute little number with some simple guitar strumming and a (miraculously) good vocal performance with some really sing-alongy “doo roo roo” lyrics. A real surprise. The other two songs that stand out here are Complicity and Evidence, while the latter is the only song where the “heavy” riffs are not that bad. While all the other songs are empty as a funeral drum, there's a song that really stands out in its mindfuckingmelter awfulness and it's One Year from Now. Simply the worst song I ever heard in years.
The only way I can recommend this record is as a torture soundtrack. This is some of the most apathic, monochromatic, and empty stuff ever committed to an album ever. The three good songs alone are what make this album worth of a 15%, but still listening to it on headphones is a good method of damaging irreversibly your eardrums. And your brain, too.
After being a fan of Katatonia for years before Viva Emptiness, I was quite excited to get my hands on it.
From basically the first chord, the first thing I noticed was how much better the production was over previous albums. The guitars were tighter and crunchier, the drums weren't as washy and the vocals were crystal clear. As the album progressed I could hear little moments of studio brilliance such as the "telephone" sound now almost commonplace on albums of this ilk. Even comparing to newer Katatonia albums, I think it's still their best sounding album.
The best thing is, when it comes to the songs, it gets even better. Katatonia is well known for being slow doom-like depressive metal. However on this album, while maintaining a lot of those traits, most songs are a little more upbeat. The opener "Ghost Of The Sun" was almost one of my favourite Katatonia tracks from the first listen. Upbeat but brooding and malevolent sounding, "Ghost Of The Sun" is an incredible track that allows you to bang your head, sing along and be moved all at the same time. Three simple notes with the piano at the end of the song is the perfect segway into "Sleeper" another upbeat track but this time Jonas' vocal melodies are laced with pain. Especially in the chorus where his most painful sounding melody is backed up by a mélange of disharmonic chords and visceral drumming. For me, it's one of the highlight moments of the album.
Other highlight moments include a part of "Criminals" where a thumping drum beat drives an evil sounding riff over which Jonas sings "My dreams, dreams of violence. See them coming true." This has such an amazing impact that it never gets old. The interlude on "Burn The Remembrance" repeats a riff using heavy wah until the drums back it up with light tapping on the rim of the snare drum is a perfect example of the amazing production which makes it sound incredible and atmospheric. One of my all time favourite moments in music appears on the album in "Complicity" where amazing production helps create a strange sounds of a simple clean tone riff being repeated backwards which is complimented by a distant sounding piano for such a period that the listener gets a little disorientated until the snare and distorted guitar bang quickly to bring it all back to the chorus which is one of the most intense on the album. "Omerta" itself is an amazing song which is a sing along classic. So different to the rest of the album but fits so well.
After such raves I unfortunately have to comment on one small stumble in "One Year From Now". Although not a bad song in its own right, for me it somehow doesn't seem to fit into the album at all. It's very slow, it kind of distracts the listener and I think it doesn't live up the lofty reputation set by the rest of the album so I usually skip it. It's probably the only reason why I didn't give this album 100%.
However that aside, I could go on about the amazing impact of every track of this album. The combination of heavy moments and soft moments. The way distant sounding notes from guitars add a whole new texture to the album. The way they randomly remove a beat from a bar which catches you off guard. All this make it not just hard to not listen to, but still gives you something else to discover listen after listen.
It's painful, it's emotional, it's moving, it's amazingly dynamic, it pulls you in and it blows you away. It's so much more than just another album. I don't like to just throw the word around liberally but if I had to pick a list of masterpieces of 00's, this album would be on that very exclusive list. It's one for the ages and will never lose its impact. I guess the sad thing is that I'm not sure we'll hear such greatness again. Sure Katatonia's follow ups have been amazing also, but something clicked on this album and the result is something unique that has no equal. It's not just my favourite Katatonia album but one of my favourite albums of all time. Kudos Katatonia!
Katatonia are a band who have been known to produce albums of varying sound and structure without losing their underlying elements of melancholy and despair. That said, "Viva Emptiness" is Katatonia's most diverse and brilliantly crafted album since "Dance of December Souls." They take many different ideas and are able to meld them together in riff after riff of songwriting art. While this approach has been labeled as inconsistent by some, their method of combining crushing riffs, beautiful melodies, and dark depression into each and every song is nothing short of genius.
This album follows the verse-chorus-verse structure of previous albums, but this should not be taken as something mainstream or unoriginal. In fact, the odd melodies and tendency to entirely change the song's course in a split second before reverting back equally as fast is sure to keep the listener interested throughout. The argument for inconsistency is readily supported in these cases, but each part of a song is sufficiently interesting and well-written so as to not give impressions that the songs were hastily cobbled together or that there were a lack of ideas.
The dual guitar harmonies of Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norrman are brilliantly displayed and constitute one of the best twin guitar attacks in rock and metal. Whether they are pulverizing the listener with riffs worthy of the heaviest metal band, or calmly picking their guitars and producing an atmosphere of soft despair, Nystrom and Norrman are indisputably doing their craft and doing it flawlessly. Examples of this can be found on all 13 tracks, but there are standouts that are able to convey their talent as well as the overall mood of the album. Opener "Ghost of the Sun" demonstrates unconventional (yet very heavy) riffs complete with a groovy chorus before entering into a very haunting and unsettling bridge. The temporary displacement is shattered with a continuation of heavy riffs.
"Will I Arrive" has its structure composed very similarly, yet like all the other songs on the album, in an entirely different entity in itself. Mysterious-sounding verses give way to gloomy (yet irresistibly catchy) choruses and bridges. "Burn The Remembrance" ends with a torrential storm of riffs with the voice of singer Jonas Renkse punctuating the wall of sound with a clear and depressive air that few vocalists can imitate. "Inside The City of Glass" doesn't even require lyrics or singing to express its deep and complex melodies rife with a keyboard atmosphere giving it the feeling of an epic. There are many other examples of this brilliance in composition, and only with repeated listens can one fully appreciate the scope and magnitude of this album.
The lyrics also follow the spirit of complexity and inventiveness conveyed by music. Renkse displays a variety of emotions and thoughts throughout the album, ranging from anger to sadness to confusion to determination and even the last thoughts of a man being poisoned (see the extremely soft rock of "Omerta"). Intelligent, witty, and pessimistic all the same time, the lyrics are among the best the band has written.
Katatonia's career has been one of intrigue and creativity. Their constant musical refinements and additional complexities along with their trademark negative views on the experience of life make them a band like no other. "Viva Emptiness" is arguably the zenith of their career, and with songs like these, one will be hard-pressed to disagree.
Katatonia returned in 2003 with Viva Emptiness, an album which threw away the large amounts of reverb and distortion from the previous 3 records, and debuted a more streamlined, riff-based sound. And while it works at times, sometimes you feel like they didn't do enough to make it work.
Jonas is in top form on this record, he is one of my favorite vocalists, and his performance on this record is up to snuff. The other constant on this album is the drumming. Once they found a permanent drummer in Daniel for the Last Fair Deal record, Katatonia's songs have been more dynamic, and this record is no exception. Sadly, the rest of the record suffers from inconsistent guitar work, questionable songwriting, and poor lyrics. Ok, I admit, Katatonia is not the band you go to if you want great lyrics, but these are worse than usual. They make no sense to me. This is supposed to be some sort of concept album, but I don't understand what the concept is. On top of this, some of the guitar work seems uninspired, especially toward the middle of the album. There are a lot of good moments on this album, but compared to all their other material, this leaves a lot to be desired. There are some real gems here though, like Ghost of the Sun with its rockish verse riff, and the doomy closer Inside the City of Glass. Many of the tracks make me think filler, something I'm not used to feeling when it comes to this band.
I caution listeners about this album all the time. It seems to divide people quite a bit. I would recommend you preview a few tracks before listening to this, it may leave you disappointed otherwise. I highly recommend the track left out of this album, Wait Outside, which to this day doesn't make sense why the band decided to leave it out. Proceed with caution!
It's probably becoming clichéd to say, "When I first heard this record, I didn't like it much. But now! Well, I love it!". However clichéd that may seem, that is exactly how I feel when it comes to ‘Viva Emptiness‘. Its atmosphere seems too upbeat to be Katatonia, though the lyrics express something different altogether, though, on occasions, as shown throughout ‘Omerta’, the lyrics too can come across as unusually happy. In fact, this is a key area of juxtaposition within the grand scheme of things as, although Jonas’ voice is evidently melancholic in style, there are a number of passages within the record that make it appear like an airy, bright and vibrant record. Of course, there are elements which contradict this, but then again, there are elements to support it strongly. The opening song seems to sway the other way, but the more the record is explored with an open mind, the more it becomes open and fresh, as shown with the catchy opening riff to ‘Sleeper’. Aspects of the record consist of a typical Katatonia styled aggression whilst the modern elements transfix the listener on a happy, summery vibe that seems far too upbeat for a band tagged as “depressive rock”. The backing vocals on the opening song, for example, are full of anger, anguish and resentment, these are the only aspects of the record which distorted vocals will feature as Jonas is no longer capable of doing so.
Maybe I’m misjudging it, but especially on the first track it seems undeniably obvious that the feel of this Katatonia full-length is by far more upbeat at times despite the use of small aspects that maintain the older aggression we’re used to associating the band with. This upbeat feeling runs through to the second song, 'Sleeper' as well and even more so when it comes to the wonderfully juxtaposed ‘Will I Arrive’ which begins with an assault of aggressive riffs, but eventually slows down into an aquatic styled atmosphere whereby Jonas can truly hit home the lyrics. The upbeat backbone put me off slightly at first, but after a few listens I persevered through the new sound and eventually became accustomed to it. As you can probably tell, I came to like it. I told myself Katatonia are a band who often put their fans through a lot of change over the past few years, some were probably foreseen, whilst others were definitely unforeseen. I would have thought I would be accustomed to it by now, but it seems I’m not and I did struggle to appreciate the excellence of songs like ‘Omerta’ with its catchy style of vocals. A song like this worked perfectly in person and the band even got the abrupt ending perfectly right, something I was particularly impressed with.
I've found, over time, that Katatonia's music can be very deceiving at times. As I stated, I often thought this sounded like a quite upbeat full-length, but after time I changed my opinion. That's the beauty when it comes to Katatonia records, they alter in your mind over time. Which means they never become tedious or a chore to listen to. ‘Viva Emptiness’, the title that is, is quite an oxymoron anyway. “Viva” is roughly interpreted as “long live” and we all know what emptiness is. Generally, if someone shouts “viva”, it's usually in a positive context. People don't generally praise others for feeling empty. Instead, they would comfort them in order to make them feel again. This revelation is actually quite important in expressing the theme of the album. It seems to either be a coincidence or a smart move. The music may seem lively and upbeat because of the high pitched guitar tones, or Jonas' vocals as he sings “do-do-do”, but in actual fact, there is a very negative backbone to this full-length which might not be explored as cleanly as I would like. It would appear to be overridden on occasions and can succumb to the pressure of the happy-go-lucky atmospherics.
"So gather your strength and break free
Or you will surely die."
This is a very good example of what I mentioned. Taken from the brilliantly original and innovative, ‘Criminals‘. Focusing on such matters is a good thing for the band. It's a universal theme and people will be able to relate to it, thus rendering Katatonia's lyrics very useful in terms of effecting the audiences emotions. Katatonia are experts at doing this and they do it very well. Never do they falter. The experimentation which takes place instrumentally, also takes place lyrically. It's not too pleasing when a band decides to focus solely on one lyrical topic, so the fact that Katatonia write about a vast array of issues is positive. It certainly alters my opinion of this album. Usually vocals and lyrics aren't important to me, but Katatonia make them important to me. It's impossible to phase out Jonas' vocals. Emotive, powerful and absolutely genius. They take many forms and can range from whispers to more forceful heartbreaking screams. They aptly portray the lyrics very well. This record is just another indication, in a long line, that proves to us that Katatonia can withstand change and actually use it to their advantage. Perfect production with a slightly bombastic feel to the guitars, something which doesn’t particularly overwhelm the bass, although it can go missing on occasions, outstanding use of two guitarists who combine well on songs like ‘Burn The Remembrance’ whereby one guitarist is playing a hardened riff more akin to the older style and the other is playing a repetitious, breezy riff which swings in and out of the atmosphere with ease. A massive hit.
Katatonia is known for having two separate eras: doomdeath and "dark alternative." While it is difficult for any listener to compare one era to the other, both eras tend to have something very special about them. "Viva Emptiness" is one of Katatonia's newer era (dark alternative) in which the use of emotion is very high. This setting of this album, according to the band, is based on Omerta, or the code of the mafia (such as the Godfather trilogy). Without knowing the setting of the album, one can still get a sense of the bloodline, family, and urgency that this particular topic evokes. While not a heavy band in the sense of distortion and brutal riffs, the music is heavy in terms of pure hauntingness and emotion.
The guitars, which I liken to sorrowful, melancholic minor key patterns, have perfect production. The bass lines fit in perfectly. The drums are an essential part of this album, at times they are alarmingly fast, especially in the "drum roll" area, but they can slow down while still being complex. The vocals are top notch; they sound very emotional and sorrowful, while not being too over the top (such as Entwine). The album as a whole is just brilliant.
There is no doubt that many metal heads will see this album as just another hardrockish goth metal album, but it really is so much more. From start to finish there are no lulls in the story and nothing is out of place. This is just one of those albums that begs to be played the whole way through.
The lyrical concepts, as stated before, are based on Omerta, but they really encompass much more, such as loss, pain, and anxiety. The vocals do a good job, but aren't the focal point. The music itself is what is amazing here, and this album simply must be heard.
The artwork for this album, courtesy of genius Travis Smith, is amazing. The packaging is worth the price alone. The artwork goes right along with the concept of the album.
Any into post-doomdeath bands, such as Anathema, Paradise Lost, and Novembre should enjoy this album from the first play. I think for other metal heads it will take a little more growth. Do not just abandon this album for not being strikingly heavy. This album is good piece to relax to after a good day of headbanging. Recommended as essential for post-doomdeath fans, and as highly recommended to fans of all metal genres.
Viva Emptiness is the only album I own from Katatonia and I've gotta say that I want more of their albums. I picked this up used at the local music store and I'm amazed at the stark beauty and atmosphere of this disc. The band does an excellent job of weaving utterly despondent sonic tapestries merely by playing distorted guitar leads and steady rhythms. Unlike the most depressing of the doom, black, etc. bands, Katatonia are minimalists when it comes to creating moods...nothing on this album sounds too forced, whiny, or overdone like some other 'depressing' bands might do, and it works heavily to the band's advantage.
What's really neat about this release is the unabashedly 'rock' aspect to it, mainly in the vocals. It has been said that Jonas Renkse sounds like many of the modern alternative/ hard rock vocalists of today, and I can't argue; however, there is an extra dimension of feeling in them which sets him apart from these guys. In addition, the overwhelming aural environment on this disc eclipses anything some run-of-the-mill rock band would create. I imagine the environment helps embellish Renkse's vocals and vice-versa, but sufficeth to say that modern rock bands just don't create works of art so deeply involved and 'beneath-the-surface' as Katatonia does.
All the songs seem to have a soliloquy/story-like vibe to them, as the narrator always is relating some personal anguish, distress, doom, etc. to someone else. Basically, it seems that all his relationships with other people are in shambles, and there's lots of elements of paranoia, betrayal, and other feelings floating around. Unfortunately, I can't really tag the lyrical theme as a whole for the record, but let's just say it's like an uber-dark, dreary soap opera.
Unlike their first two releases, this has all clean vocals and it works just fine. I think for this album harsh vocals would've ruined what they were trying to do or just created something entirely different. The only complaint I have about the vocals(well, actually the lyrics) are the slight nu-metal tinges in them, mainly in Ghosts of the Sun, as somebody has already pointed out. That song has too much cussing in the chorus, and profanities don't belong in a band like Katatonia, but rather in fist-pumping, rage-inciting thrash and death metal bands and such. On those kind of albums, it's fun to be crass, uncivilized, and perhaps immature; however, it just doesn't belong in Katatonia's style of music.
Another thing noteworthy about this is the absence of guitar solos, or at least memorable ones. However, since this is more rock than metal(and rock is less associated with solos), it's not a real biggie and serves no detriment.
Overall, a highly enjoyable release from a band who makes the emotion of depression kick serious ass. In fact, I wish I was really depressed right now, so I could listen to them and enjoy it to the fullest extent.
Highlights: Sleeper, Criminals, Burn the Remembrance, Omerta
This is a rather unique album for me personally. The tone of the guitars and the sound of the production gives this album a distinctive atmosphere; which is for me at least, is a grey breezy day. Y'know one of those hopeless days where nothing sounds like fun and you haven't a clue what it is you want to do? Hence the 'Emptiness' in the title. And the way Jonas sings, his voice full of loss, only solidifies this.
The guitars on this album have a low-key hollow sound, which isn't bad at all, it fits the albums art direction quite nicely. There's fantastic layered work between the guitars; there will be a lead riff going, with a backing atmosphere effect (best heard in the chorus of 'Criminals') not really heavy usually, but occasionally. The drumming also follows this trend, nothing over the top, just there to fit the theme of the album, Done well and sounds good. The bass is used heavily here, and like the others, fits the theme of loss that the album has perfectly.
Viva Emptiness is different than other Katatonia releases in a few ways. First of which, the songs have become even shorter, also more accessible. Only one song on the album clocks in at over four and a half minutes. There's also a ballad type song 'Evidence', and an all acoustic song 'Omerta'. Both are wonderful. Katatonia even gives a nod to the older days with the closing instrumental 'Inside the City of Glass' which is only four minutes, but still feels towering, epic and slow; a compact doom song of sorts.
Behind the guitars, the vocals are what you're going to pay attention to. Jonas' lyrics here seem to be him having a conversation with someone; usually telling a story or confessing to something. The way he delivers it though is exquisite, if you pay attention to this album, you can really understand and get a feel for what he's trying to express, which is loss and sorrow for the most part.
Viva Emptiness shows Katatonia taking their signature theme into new territories while keeping their core intact. Highly recommended. Easy to get into, but hard to absorb.
Katatonia is undeniably one of my favourite bands. Their solid, depressive rock songs never seize to amaze and inspire me. This album is the follow up to the highly succesful "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and it feels like a pretty logical progression. The production is somewhat more clean and there's more electronics present. The positive thing is that the electronics never overpower the guitars. It just makes the Katatonia sound feel more complete.
The biggest similarity with their last album here is the quality of the songs. They always seem to come up with at least 10 tracks that are equally great for each CD. There's also enough difference in pace and heaviness between each track to keep it interesting. Some tracks like "Will I Arrive?" and "Wealth" rely on distorted metal riffs and some are pretty much all-out rock songs.
One of their biggest assets is Jonas Renske. This guy just gets better and better at his vocals by each record. I can't find any vocalist besides Anathema's Danny Cavanough that is capable of conveying so much emotion in his delivery. Despite the fact that this album isn't as extremely depressive as "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" was, it's definitely his best performance when it comes to clarity and singing technique.
Now I feel compelled to have some negative criticism as well as I've been ranting about how much I like each element of this band. As I've mentioned before I don't find this album to be as incredibly gloomy and depressive as "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and "Discouraged Ones" were. In my book that's a negative thing since that's what I really like this band for. Another slight complaint I have is the somewhat vulgar lyricism and slight "nu"-ness that occurs in some songs, mainly "Ghost of The Sun". Those background screams and profanities just don't belong in there.
Still, I really have to compliment Katatonia for having their sound together so well. They have really found an effective way to write their songs, and they still manage to progress just enough to keep it all interesting. I don't find "Viva Emptiness" to be just as great as their other output, but as the big fan I am, I like it anyway.
Best tracks: "A Premonition", "Burn The Remembrance", "Evidence" and "One Year From Now"
This album is very solid. Although the band hyped it as being much darker and heavier than "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", they only made it darker. It isn't any heavier. Which isnt a bad thing.
So what is the impact of this album? It's a dark, groovy, melodic, doomy (but not slow) beautiful piece of art full of atmosphere. The songs flow together very well, and things are not at all repetitive or predictable. The mood of this disc is mournful and gloomy, yet hopeful. The lyrics are oblique, deep, metaphorical, and mature.
Once again, the album does not sound very 'metal' at all. The music is relatively simple and not very technical. But the atmosphere on this album is fucking amazing. You can hear so many things with good speakers or headphones. The mix is very well produced and clean, with everything about the same level in in the mix (with the vocals layered above, of course). Thats because the atmosphere, mood, and vocals are what differentiate this band form all the rest.
Katatonia should receive an award for best use of technology on an album for this release. The synth in the background is applied very profesionally. The vocal filters are much better used than on the previous releases.
Highlights of this album include:
Will I Arrive
One Year From Now
Although all the songs are excellent.