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Discouraging - 82%

Manwaring, September 3rd, 2008

Only two albums into their youthful career, Katatonia had already made a lasting impression upon the canonical of doom-death. However, that would be the end of their existence as a heavy metal band. A combination of factors, mainly the loss of Jonas’ ‘harsh’ voice, and a mini break-up, sparked a drastic change in style, that would become this album.

Discouraged Ones is often cited as a bit of a mixed bag of an album. Many seem to feel that Katatonia had not perfected their new musical style, and would only do so on their following album Tonight’s Decision. Certainly there is a slight feeling of clumsiness to many of the songs. Trying to pinpoint why this is however, can be difficult. Many of the songs still feature a ‘metalish’ main riff, and the lead guitar is still played in the similar complementary melodic fashion ala’ Brave Murder Day. But the song structure itself is entirely different. Where as before Katatonia’s songs were crafted as long compilations of various riffs and themes, the songs on this album are essentially verse/chorus pop songs. It is in this, not in the clean vocals or softer guitars, that mark this albums huge departure from their previous style.

The big question is then, can Katatonia pull off what are essentially pop songs? Preferably without making a humiliatingly large departure into the realms of emo hair, wrist bands, and Taking Back Sunday(*cough* Last Fair Deal Gone Down). At this Discouraged Ones succeeds. It may be pop music, but everything from the production, to the song writing is still uncompromisingly ‘Katatonia’. Everything is as it should be, the drumming is tight and hasn’t lost the edge that it had back on Dance of December Souls, Anders’ leads still complement the music wonderfully, and while opinions range on Jonas Renske‘s voice, I feel it works perfectly with the music. However, mentioning all of this is pointless, because lets remember this is essentially a pop album, and without decent song writing, it will undoubtedly blow. In the harsh world of pop music claims of atmosphere and ambiance will never be enough to save you from bad song writing.

Luckily, overall the song writing is excellent. Somehow though, I feel as if mentioning song writing in a heavy-metal review is akin to biting off my own tongue. One is suppose to claim “the riffs are excellent” or “the atmosphere is trancelike”, but I can’t do that, because it is not. While the album features riffs worth mentioning, and it still possess the archetypal ‘Katatonia’ atmosphere; it is still a pop album and it is in the well crafted songs like Deadhouse and Distrust that this album truly stands out as excellent. Sadly though, their departure into the realms of pop music means that they lost some of the awesome qualities their music possessed in their metal days.