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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