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Dead people hanging from windmills - 79%

gasmask_colostomy, April 26th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Peaceville Records (Reissue, Remastered, Digipak)

It's a dead bird that introduces the listener to Katatonia's Brave Murder Day, but I personally find a better image in Anders Nystrom's comment (found in the liner notes to Peaceville's reissue) that the band were thinking of "dead people hanging from windmills" when they recorded this album. Catching sight of something from the top of a neighbouring hill and not quite believing your eyes; peering closer and still only having a vague dread of what you can see; not venturing any closer, but moving on forgetfully, just in case your fears are confirmed - that's exactly what this album seems to conjure up. There's something surreal about Brave Murder Day that the dead bird doesn't quite achieve, though there's also something morbid and horrifically detailed about it that is always transferred in good doom death, which that close-up suggests. So, yes, it is doom death, but only as Katatonia could imagine it.

The first thing to deviate from the norm is the style that Nystrom chose for his riffs on this album. There are very few traditional doom or doom death guitar parts: in fact, I would venture to say that '12' is the only song that really approaches conventionality and it's fairly apparent that it's a rewritten song from a previous release (it was originally 'Black Erotica'). The former title is an indicator of the lyrical content ('Black theatre of love/ Violet dances cast their blood/ The moon gave me flowers/ For funerals to come') and the influence of a gothic doom band such as My Dying Bride, whose decadent, poetic lyrics deal with similar themes. Structurally, '12' behaves like a Bride song too, with few repeating parts and longer, more intricate riffs than the other songs. It's a good song, but certainly not the reason for this album's success.

The opener 'Brave' begins with shining feedback and immediately launches into a monotone down-picked riff that sweeps and washes across the listener with subtle changes of emotion. The pace is faster than most doom metal and the overall feeling much lighter, both in guitar tone and atmosphere. This style crops up on most songs here and contrasts with the same slower clean passages that Katatonia first used on Dance of December Souls, the effect of which is to build a quiet/loud and slow/fast dynamic that allows the album to possess extra energy and impact, something that is especially important when the songs average 7 minutes. The first 2 songs make full use of this technique and are the strongest numbers for it, though the additional melodic touches are truly outstanding. No one plays melody like Nyström: on 'Murder', for example, he settles right into the groove between creepy and relaxed and doesn't budge an inch, firing off reverb-soaked arabesques and dreamy counter-riffs.

Because the guitars are so dominant, the other instruments have little work to do. During the faster sections, the bass and drums simply follow the song, though occasionally Jonas Renkse does up the intensity and add some semi-blasts to the mix, most noticeably during 'Rainroom'. However, the drums are not well-produced (not even on the reissue), so there is barely a difference to the feel of the songs. The main vocalist on Brave Murder Day is none other than Mikael Akerfeldt, although the music carries the album strongly and he has relatively few lyrics for such long songs. Notably, the one song that Renkse sings on is much more involved, with a simpler storytelling style ('Grey park looks the same/ And the days are pale/ I never thought it would rain this way') that foreshadows later Katatonia releases. Musically, 'Day' is an extreme departure from the rest of the album, with hazy keyboards and processed beats, plus Renkse's echoey clean vocals. It's an experiment and clearly comes from the band's love of The Cure and their singer's desperation to contribute more to the album, but the style is not fully formed here and jars the listener, breaking the mood of the album. For me, 'Day' could have fitted if the band had excluded the processed beats and kept the track quiet and subtle.

I don't have a lot of complaints about Brave Murder Day and the best part is that - like so many of Katatonia's albums - it is consistently interesting, even if there are a few missteps. 'Day' is unsuitable for this collection of songs, '12' is a little derivative, and 'Endtime' is not as tight as it should be, but none of these are downright bad. What does seem striking is that My Dying Bride (who I have mentioned as an influence on '12') took on much of the style of this album on their later opus 34.788%...Complete, which also did away with traditional doom death traits and themes, used the faster, more simple riffing style with counter-melodies, and included their own poorly-judged non-metal song 'Heroin Chic'. It's weird and smells a bit old now, but it's a dead bird - what did you expect?