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The Sound of Falling - 90%

lonerider, July 19th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Peaceville Records (Reissue, Remastered, Digipak)

Katatonia’s run of putting out very high-quality doom/death metal may have been brief, but man, was it excellent indeed. Unfortunately, the oddly titled Brave Murder Day, released in 1996, was already full-length album number two out of only two to feature this style. The band’s sound then underwent a major stylistic shift starting with 1998’s Discouraged Ones, which saw Katatonia drift from doom/death toward more mellow non-death metal territory and, eventually, a kind of introverted depressive rock. Before that happened, there were two more fine doom/death releases coming on the heels of Brave Murder Day, namely the EPs Sounds of Decay and Saw You Drown, but that was it. It’s a pity but no to be changed, so we might as well enjoy what we have and go from there.

So what exactly do we have in Brave Murder Day? The answer is, a one of a kind, non-generic doom/death metal album that sounds like very few others while also staying true to the genre’s stylistic and aesthetic roots. What sets it apart from the band’s debut record and many other traditional doom/death albums is mainly the riffing. Where Dance of December Souls focused on the usual sluggish, monolithic walls of guitars, Brave Murder Day does not always move along at a snail’s pace, often going for a more chugging, strumming riffing style capped by the downright brilliant, crushingly sorrowful leads these guys have always done so well. The first two tracks, “Brave” and “Murder”, are perfect examples for this. They nicely switch between faster and slower tempos and boast richly textured, beautifully harmonized, heart-rending lead guitars that are a clear step up from the already high standard set on Dance of December Souls and the subsequent For Funerals to Come EP. The leads were excellent on those, but on Brave Murder Day, they have reached their pinnacle, constituting the one ingredient that elevates this album to greatness.

Another central component of the band’s sound in those days were the dreamy acoustic interludes. They showed up plentiful on the debut and do so again here, offering some laid-back moments of atmospheric relief in the midst of all the heaviness and despair. (Although they, too, do very little to cheer up the generally depressive mood.) They are incorporated into pretty much every song, including the final three, which overall are a bit “doomier” and even bleaker than the first two. On an album elevating weird one-word song titles to an art form, “12”, featuring the self-referential verses “the moon gave me flowers, for funerals to come”, is a rewritten version of the track “Black Erotica”, which appeared on the re-release of the For Funerals to Come EP. It’s basically textbook doom/death metal with a haunting main riff and very oppressive mood, even though a case could be made that “Black Erotica” was slightly better due to its beautiful acoustic intro, which was omitted on “12”, and grittier production.

“Rainroom” and “Endtime” give us more of the same, the latter featuring a short audio sample taken from the motion picture The Shining. Then there is track number three, “Day”, which is clearly an outlier as well as a precursor to the path the band would choose on Discouraged Ones and beyond. It basically qualifies as dreary, depressive rock/pop, and while it has its moments and the clean vocals courtesy of Jonas “don’t call me Renske” Renkse are competent, its fit with the rest of the material is questionable at best.

Brave Murder Day is nicely produced, featuring a sound that by and large feels appropriate for its musical content. If anything it may be a bit too glossy for this particular genre, but not so much as to make the material lose its ghastly charm. The drums can be a bit of a nuisance though, which is due to their sometimes clicky, artificial sound. Then again, the mix – at least on the highly recommended remastered version – emphasizes the guitars and vocals, which is reasonable in light of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s harsh vocals being downright brilliant here. Jonas, who handled all the vocals on Dance of December Souls, only does clean vocals here, and those are mostly confined to the aforementioned track “Day”. Åkerfeldt’s forceful growls are both brutal and morbid and it’s safe to say this album would not be quite as good without them.

Anyone who likes doom/death metal in general or Katatonia’s older stuff in particular should absolutely get this album, even more so since the 2006 re-release boasts an audibly better sound and includes the equally brilliant Sounds of Decay EP. The band has progressed some since their debut, but Brave Murder Day retains enough elements from Dance of December Souls to make you feel right at home. Of the six songs on here, only two fall below the six-minute mark, and even a ten-minute behemoth like “Brave”, despite the genre’s inherent monotony, feels much shorter than its actual length. Brave Murder Day is just cleverly written and masterfully arranged doom/death with only very few weaker moments to endure and an abundance of great ones to discover.

Choicest cuts: Brave, Murder, 12

Rating: 9.0 out of 10 points