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Purest sorrow, embrace my soul - 100%

Caleb9000, August 12th, 2017

Have you ever found yourself to be rather frustrated with the ignorance and stupidity that is directed at an album with a small fanbase by the larger crowd. This is the case for Katatonia's outstandingly atmospheric debut, "Dance of December Souls". If is often dismissed by the current fans of the band as "generic death-doom". However, anyone else who has ever listened to this album and has any clue what death-doom is will rightfully scoff at this. This is not death metal in any way at all. Vocals do not make a genre. The vocals are hardly death metal, but I'll touch on that later.

The unique music to be found here can be more easily labeled as "doom metal" than anything else, though this is a major over-generalization. The slow-tempo and occasional riff that can be somewhat compared to acts like Candlemass or Paradise Lost (which is still a stretch) is about as far as the doom aspect goes. And even then, it takes more from what would be called "epic doom". There is also a prominent gothic-rock element, particularly in the cleaner sections of the album, but its impact is more based around atmosphere than it is melody. There is also a strong symphonic element, especially in the longer tracks. Plenty of these melodies almost feel as though they could come from the 18th century. There is also a hint at classical-piano balladry (though there is hardly any piano on here, apart from the outro).

This is as good of a description of this music as I can give and I have still likely misrepresented it highly. It doesn't really sound like anything mentioned above individually, but the sound seems to cross it all simultaneously, somehow. It is all drenched in a highly melancholic, fantastical and mystical atmosphere that will drown the listener within itself. This is all complimented by the vocals of Jonas Renkse. This is by far the greatest vocal performance that he has ever given. He is widely known for his mournful crooning that is present on Katatonia's later material, but here, here uses a highly distinctive and extraordinarily passionate style of guttural growling. He doesn't have the typical tone that many growls do, but he sounds as though he is in utter anguish. His tortured wailing often descends into an absolutely evil, deeper growl that is displayed just as forcefully. He also occasionally goes into fits of maddening shrieking that are filled to the brim with spite and rage.

However, despite the fierce vocals, the music is relatively peaceful, or at least for the most part. This creates the wintery atmosphere that the album has, with the vocals acting as if they were an evil spirit. But even the atmosphere of the music alone is enough to completely enthral whoever is listening. The way that things flow into each other in an almost progressive way, or even being practically structureless, is truly remarkable, as nothing ever feels jarring. Songs often go through many tempo-changes in their run times, and they do so in a clearly conscious and concise way. Two of these songs exceed the ten-minute mark, but neither feel forced or boring.

A song such as "In Silence Enshrined" has an absolutely apocalyptic and painful atmosphere, brilliantly blending guitar and keyboard in a practically tear-jerking fashion, without going into complete balladry. Jonas is at his least guttural and almost sounds like he is in tears, but it doesn't sound wimpy. Hell, it even sounds commanding. "Without God" has a more evil atmosphere that is the most rooted in epic doom of all the tracks here. The vocals are absolutely vicious and truly haunt the listener with their absolute savagery. Gone is the pain and misery in the voice of Jonas (for now), he is ready to reap souls. "Tomb of Insomnia" is the most epic of the songs and it truly builds up tension through many different sections, even going into Blur Oyster Cult-inspired gothic rock (though still maintaining plenty of originality), before going into an actually rather uplifting and romantic end to the song. Here, Jonas almost seems to be singing, but in a very guttural tone. Still, coherent melody can be detected in his vocals at this point. The outro of the album continues this, but in a more celebratory fashion.

But the true highlight of this masterpiece is "Velvet Thorns (of Drynwhyl)". It is the single greatest doom metal song ever written. The song uses symphonic bliss with a guitar to form an astoundingly bleak twin-attack, followed by more up-tempo, hugely atmospheric and beautiful melodic black metal, then into many slower and highly depressing slower sections. In the end, the song is very soft and uses bells to work with clean guitar to create a psychedelic, but highly romantic atmosphere that causes me to feel as though I am peacefully drifting through the night sky, accompanied by delicate whispered vocals. It is very difficult to describe this highly ambitious track. I've really only been able to describe the atmosphere of the record well, the nature of the music must be experienced by the listener.

The lyrics are truly heartfelt. Each track deals with its own concept, all of which involve death and disparity. What each song describes is written in a poetic and unique way each time, which adds to the emotional impact they have. Each word is articulated perfectly when compared to the last (as well as by the vocalist). The best example that I can think of would be from "Velvet Thorns", toward the end of the track.

"In the trees, you will hear my voice
Ever calling, ever falling.
Darkness in front of our eyes,
A darkened circle you have made.
But as you leave the darkness, I must stay"

These words alone carry the very essence of regret and anguish. They tell the other person in the story of the track in the most blatant way possible that suffering will forever be insured by the protagonist. It is a simple, yet brilliant way to express sadness.

This is an album that is unbelievably rewarding in every single way that you can think of, be it emotion, innovation, atmosphere, production (which almost sounds like rain... I guess), lyrics that are beautifully written, or incredible harsh vocals. It is one of the most unique and indescribable albums in all of metal, or music for that matter. It is an album that must've listened to in order to be understood, and no one can ever accurately describe its overall sound. One can only tell of it's rewarding experience to intrigue others. It is a true shame that many of Katatonia's modern fans pass this off as generic, as it may lead to this album being g forgotten by everyone in favor of their new music, which is much lower than it in quality. But those who have heard it and understand it, know how brilliant the record is. For incredible atmosphere and utter sorrow, listen to this masterpiece.