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A change of approach. - 89%

greywanderer7, July 12th, 2012

After the underground success of Dance of December Souls, Katatonia split-up in 1995, allegedly due to the difficulty of keeping a stable line-up. During a year, founding members Nyström and Renkse dedicated to separate projects, but they reunited Katatonia in early 1996, with the new guitarist Fredrik Norrman and a session vocalist, Mikael Åkerfeldt, the main man of the now (in)famous Opeth. However, they came back with a vastly different approach to their music, and this is, in fact, a departure from the old sound.

Completely gone are the epic song structures with multiple sections, the black metal and gothic rock influences, and the keyboards. Instead, those are replaced by minimalistic, repetitive song structures, downtuned guitars, droning riffs with a vaguely alternative rock feel (in occasions only open chords), deeper, more 'monstruous' growls, and the use of clean vocals, for the first time in their career, which overall create a darker, more compact yet more emotional and direct sound. In fact, those changes contribute to make a sound that's more accesible and even more melodic than their earlier work, and some few traits of their new sound can be traced back from here.

The production is dry, with a more wall of sound quality to it, with denser, layered guitars and clicking drums (by the way, this is Renkse's best drum performance, using double bass and some adequate fills from time to time). Åkerfeldt sounds more evil and desperate in here than in any Opeth record, and his performance, while being less emotional than Renkse's one on previous works, is more than fitting to the music in here. The lyrics are also different from the elegies of yore, this time being more metaphorical, even though sometimes it sounds like they wrote some random phrases and put them together.

Despite this minimalistic approach to the sound of the record, the songs don't blend together, and they don't sound all the same. 'Brave' is the longest song of the album, going from a droning section to a more melodic but doomier one and then going back to the first section. It doesn't seem like it lasts ten minutes. 'Murder' is slightly fast-paced, way shorter, and has a more 'upbeat' (for the lack of a better word) feel to it. However, 'Day' is a calm, dreamy and dreary song, resembling shoegaze rather than metal. This is the first time Renkse used clean vocals, and even though these ones are performed in a somewhat amateurish way, they are very fitting for the song.

'Rainroom' is similar to 'Murder', still being delivered in the same fashion, but with stronger, more traditional doom metal riffing, and a noteworthy vocal performance by Åkerfeldt. '12' is the only song that resembles the epics of 'Dance of December Souls', and the reason is quite obvious: it's a reworked track from the past called 'Black Erotica'. Though '12' sounds darker, heavier and more oppresive, I strongly recommend the listener to look out for the original version, which is, in my humble opinion, better. The album closes on a strong note with 'Endtime', the darkest and heaviest song of the bunch, even somewhat disturbing, with really strong, spiteful growls, and an horrifying, haunting main guitar riff.

While this focus shift gave as a result a final product which was not as elegant, or sophisticated as the debut, it was still more than decent, the more direct approach made the music more intense, and this gave a blueprint for the new sound the band took in the immediate future, since they used some characteristics of this sound on their first real masterpiece, the follow-up Discouraged Ones.