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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!