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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.