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An absolute masterpiece of metal - 98%

Apatheria, March 27th, 2008

How this album isn't considered by many to be one of metal's greatest masterpieces, I will never know. Unappreciated in the sense that it isn't heralded to as high of a degree as Mayhem's over-rated De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Burzum's Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, or Ulver's great Bergtatt, I still come back to this album when I consider the greatest underground metal albums of all time. While hard to classify musically, as it’s too slow to be black metal and too fast to be doom metal, that’s partially what lends to it’s greatness. With an utterly razor-sharp guitar sound, the monotonous, numbing drum lines, and the brutality of Akerfeldt's vocals, I simply cannot imagine anything darker.

The atmosphere created by all the aforementioned traits is absolutely suffocating. I've already mentioned the razor sharp sound of the guitars, which is achieved to an unbelievable level of perfection. I can't think of a better sound to match the lead riffs, which operate on delightfully dissonant scales. Bass doesn't play a major role, but it doesn't have to; I am often irritated by a lack of bass, but here, anything that distracted from the sound of the guitars would be a nuisance, hence the simplicity of both the bass and the drums. Many have complained about the simplicity and the repetitiveness of the drumming, but I feel it lends heavily to the numbing atmosphere of the album.

Another aspect many have complained about are the clean vocals of Jonas Renske in the track 'Day', calling them whiny and angst-ridden. I heavily disagree, as Renske's voice is far too mature to come off as whiny. Instead, his vocals come off as cynical and weary, like a man who has spent far too much time in the company of death. This track is like his musings on a life wasted, and what could have been. Many say this song detracts from the album; I say it is one of the album's high points.

The album then launches into it's most aggressively dark track, Rainroom. Perhaps the strongest track of the entire album, with Akerfeldt's vocals at their most powerful, and the riffs at their sharpest. The lead riff at 1:45 is amongst the most powerful metal riffs that I've had the pleasure to hear, accompanied by Akerfeldt's despairing vocals as he screams the lines "I saw it end, long before it ended! Life itself turned pale!" It's an incredibly powerful passage and the defining high point of the album. The track then breaks down into a slower, wonderfully bleak passage, with Jonas Renske's clean vocals appearing once more, sounding even more cynical and tired than in the previous track. It's an absolutely killer track, one that must be heard.

And of course, all the other tracks on the album are similarly outstanding. Brave is as good of an album opener as any, instantly enveloping the listener in the album's bleak, numbing aesthetic. And the riff at the 3 minute mark of Brave is breath-taking. Murder is the most eerie track of the album, with strange lyrics that seem to be a disoriented poem written by a madman. 12 is packed full of killer riffs, and an interesting thing I've noticed; there are exactly twelve passages before the song comes to it's climax. Endtime is honestly my least favorite track of the album, but it's hardly a weak track. Where Rainroom is the climax, Endtime is the falling action of the album. But I feel it somewhat fails as an album ending. It would have lead beautifully into the track "For Funerals to Come" from their '95 EP of the same name, which would certainly be the ultimate finale for this album. But I digress.

Overall, as I stated before, I strongly believe this to be among metal’s finest offerings. With this album, Katatonia have created an atmosphere of palpable darkness that few other bands have pulled off before or since. While it should be hailed in the likes of the aforementioned albums, it is merely appreciated mostly by fans of doom metal. I suppose its black metal elements are too few and far between to appeal to the majority of the underground. Nonetheless, it’s a brilliant album that should never be forgotten. With the exception of the Sounds of Decay EP, released a year later, this was Katatonia’s last foray into the truly dark and underground. I suppose they realized that, having perfected their sound with this album, it was time to move on...