Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

A unique, solitary monument - 98%

Sean16, October 1st, 2006

While other Katatonia releases are quite easy to apprehend, Dance of December Souls always made me the effect of a giant monolith of frost, something huge, impressive and somewhat scary one don’t really know how to climb. It has no equivalent in the band’s discography, even the previous EP Jhva Elohim Meth remaining only a nice children’s play compared to it, and probably in the whole metal history.

It was thus easy to pretend Katatonia had created a brand new genre of so-called “black doom”, while some didn’t hesitate to even call this album slow black metal. However I stay convinced Katatonia never CREATED anything new, their genius only consisting in having taken previously existing elements to their ultimate perfection. Because pretty much everything that could be found on this album, now famous British death/doom bands from the early 90’s had already thought of it a couple of years before. I’m talking about Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride as you must guess, and about Anathema to a certain extent. But this doesn’t deprive DoDS of any merit, as a quick comparison would be sufficient to show how much Katatonia were ahead of their time. Paradise Lost and Anathema will never reach such a zenith, soon turning to mellow rock/pop and electro, and My Dying Bride will only unleash their full potential almost ten years later with the gorgeous The Dreadful Hours (and sorry for those Turn Loose the Swans is still giving wet dreams to).

Of course, there’s first this strong anti-religious imagery, which certainly helped in comparing this album with black metal, but once again Katatonia hasn’t really innovated here. Early Paradise Lost also showed explicitly anti-God lyrics while, if My Dying Bride always leant more towards bizarre poetry and erotica, regular mentions of God or Jesus never turned to the Divinity’s advantage (The Snow in my Hands, anyone?). But now I can’t really imagine Nick or Aaron spitting a “YOUR FUCKING GOD IS DEAD AND SHALL FOREVER BE!” in the tone of a mortally wounded beast – this is in Katatonia’s well-known blasphemous anthem, Without God. Yes, it’s the same band which later released The Great Cold Distance, believe it or not.

But where Katatonia definitely goes a step further from their predecessors, it’s on both the atmosphere and the construction. The production in itself isn’t very original, given how guitars exhibit the same raspy sound one may find in other death/doom bands. The ensemble isn’t really raw though, each instrument being easily heard, even if it’s not the sharp, crystal-clear sound of later Katatonia releases. Fortunately, may I add. But the overall atmosphere is unique – cold, desperately cold. Acknowledging Dan Swano’s punctual icy backing keyboards for it is easy, but after thinking twice those aren’t particularly overwhelming, this opus being most of time guitar-driven, and above all dominated by Jonas Renske’s unique voice. Sorry, it’s not Jonas Renske, it’s Lord Seth, Jonas Renske being this annoying pop-ish singer Katatonia will use on their later works.

Actually, even if I guess it’s scientifically proven Jonas Renske and Lord Seth are the same man, anyone listening to this will conceive some doubts. No clean vocals at all, and even calling those... things growls is still a euphemism. Compared to this, even in their most aggressive growled parts Aaron or Nick still sound like charming little boys. It’s barely human; it’s like the embodiment of despair and hatred. It’s not low DM growling, it’s not high-pitched BM voices as well – even if it occasionally sounds closer to it - it’s rather barking, spitting, almost vomiting.

Concerning the construction, it’s a work of art at every level. On the individual track’s level first. Each of the five real songs is of a respectable length, especially with two 13 minutes long monsters. It might not be the excessive lengths of funeral doom works either, but given how dense the music is, it’s honest. The band manages to never fall into monotony or repetition by alternating crushing parts topped by Lord Seth’s aforementioned agonizing voice with far lighter, semi-acoustic instrumental parts where Blackheim can display his full mastery. While on the slow parts his guitar sounds as heavy as you might wish, painful and suffocating, faster (well...) parts carry by contrast an unpleasant mad feeling which will reach its pinnacle in the short closing track Dancing December, sounding like a morbid carnival backed by an eerie whispering voice endlessly repeating “Dancing... Dancing... Dancing” – indeed, a genuine macabre dance.

The general album construction has to be highlighted as well. DoDS is exactly contemporary of Turn Loose the Swans, and while I won’t diminish the importance of Turn Loose the Swans in doom metal history, and as much as I admire My Dying Bride, let’s just admit DoDS beats it on almost every point, the most striking one being the overall construction. Turn Loose... may begin on the strongest possible way, with a monumental piano-driven piece of work followed by another unforgettable death/doom anthem (Your River), but soon after somewhat falls into repetitive and, to a certain extent, boring tracks. In fact, with the exception of the first track that album throws one hundred tons of doom metal on the listener from the beginning to the end, eventually totally asphyxiating him to the point he can’t even enjoy the music any more.

DoDS is constructed in a totally opposite fashion, beginning in the softest imaginable way with an atmospheric, noisy intro, the usual rain-and-thunder samples, which only goal is to set up the mood before the genuine music kicks in – this being Gateways of Bereavement, maybe the most classic track here if there is any. Thus, the album opens on a song interesting enough to encourage anyone to keep on listening, but definitely NOT an ultimate masterpiece so that the rest doesn’t look flat in comparison. This allows the work to progressively build up to, of course, the full-of-hatred Without God. Which is followed, right after its abrupt end, by a gentle atmospheric/semi-acoustic interlude (Elohim Meth) enabling the listener to recover – that is capital – before the monumental Velvet Thorns (Of Drynwhyl). This song alone would be sufficient to prevent this album from ever falling into oblivion: complex, but almost hypnotizing, hopeless, scary and beautiful altogether, it might be 14 minutes long but one can spin it ever and ever and still discovering new qualities to it. True, after having recorded this, Katatonia could have shut up forever.

... And indeed, they did. The album ends up on the haunting, though less spectacular Tomb of Insomnia followed by the aforementioned sick conclusion Dancing December; then, the band quickly died. Brave Murder Day, without being a bad album, already looks like a pale shadow of this one, without speaking of Discouraging Ones (pun intended) and its followers. Much has been said about Metallica’s fall, but Katatonia’s fall looks even more tragic. They may not have fallen lower, but they fell from much higher, and all of a sudden. Just to put it another way – our fucking Gods are dead and shall forever be!

Highlights: Gateways of Bereavement, In Silence Enshrined, Without God, Velvet Thorns (Of Drynwhyl), Tomb of Insomnia