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Exhaustion - 85%

gasmask_colostomy, December 29th, 2014

Oh my, this album is hollow. Those mumbling, sedated vocals, the compulsive scratching of monotonous guitar riffs, and a general feeling of floating miles away from what's really going on make 'Discouraged Ones' a bleak and aching experience. Honestly, sometimes it's difficult to listen to this album: if you're feeling energetic or optimistic, avoid it like the plague. On the other hand, it's great mood music for any state of fragility, despair, or tiredness. Katatonia never made the mistake of some bands who just wallow in self-pity, so the little glimmers of hope that pop up in unexpected places make this more soothing than depressing, in my opinion. That weird chorus in 'Relention' - "I'm returning from something, to something, to something" - is at once a message of defeat and submission, but it also seems like a relief, an escape from the numbness that pervades most of the album. I would liken 'Discouraged Ones' to an exhausted man who has spent years lost and alone just finding his old neighbourhood and realising that everything is changed and somehow familiar.

Like every other Katatonia album, this one isn't like any other Katatonia album. It shares the repetitive riffing style of 'Brave Murder Day', though the stately baroque references are gone (especially noticeable in the lyrics) along with the gothic and doom arabesques that decorated the six long songs on that release. It begs the question of whether 'Discouraged Ones' is a doom album and I would answer with a resounding no. The guitar tone is arguably heavier than before, yet in the same way that Nirvana had a heavier guitar tone than Iron Maiden - the style is much simpler and arguably not metallic at all. If there were a prozac nation, Katatonia would have scored hit single after hit single with this album. The vocals are soft and often not fully enunciated, so that one gets the impression Jonas Renkse doesn't want to be heard, which is understandable given that his harsh voice had completely given out a couple of years earlier. That feebleness gives the album a lot of its character and the exhaustion of mental suffering really comes through, which I believe would never have happened with Mikael Akerfeldt or Renkse providing harsh vocals again.

The songs work like fairly conventional rock songs, a few exceptions aside. None last much above five minutes and choruses are abundant, while solos are not, only appearing in the last two songs, including the shittily-named 'Instrumental'. The drums are totally numb for a large part of 'Discouraged Ones', keeping time in a manner that really is catatonic - just slow, instinctive breaths. They do show some life in the paralytic crawl of 'Distrust', which is my personal favourite song here, with its snappy fills and elegiac chorus, plus the surprise ending is a great trick. The bass doesn't get a lot of use, since the guitars often require it to follow obediently and not interrupt any of the counter melodies that Anders Nystrom delivers with an ear that's all his own. The riffs on this album have been described as repetitive and shoegazing, but there are plenty of examples of variety on songs like 'Cold Ways' and 'Nerve', which sometimes even have an industrial flavour to them, in the vein of Godflesh's 'Streetcleaner', though not so jarringly heavy.

My general impression of the album is good, though it is slightly overshadowed by the mood of many of the songs. 'Gone' is the only track that really deviates from the norm of melancholic riffs and chorus, but it's not very memorable or appealing, sounding too empty and desperate to warrant repeated listens. 'Deadhouse' is probably the most well-known Katatonia song from 'Discouraged Ones' and it's certainly one of the better cuts, alongside 'Saw You Drown' and 'Distrust'. It has those slow, depressed verses that crop up a lot here, then the chorus is bittersweet with uplifting guitars and more hopelessness lyrically. The lyrics were transitional at this point, leaving behind the earlier romanticism and more generic doom metal themes for personal topics, though Renkse hadn't really nailed his storytelling style, tending to narrate internally rather than in the city environment he would later refer to. There are hints of the poetic familiarity to come, like on 'Deadhouse', where "headlights fuck the city", and the creepy 'Nerve'.

Overall, another distinctive Katatonia album, though not the one that you'll be playing most frequently. However, 'Discouraged Ones' is arguably the closest the band ever got to sounding truly catatonic.