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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.