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Getting Into: Katatonia

Written by: CobiWan1993
Published: October 31, 2012

Getting Into: Katatonia

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Back in the early 1990s, the band Katatonia was once a product of the vibrant death/doom metal scene in Europe, alongside such bands as Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and Anathema. By the turn of the decade, many of these bands have left the early death/doom metal sound behind as they all matured musically. Katatonia was among the bands turning away from this older sound, in favor of a more of a modern dark metal style. However as they became less heavy and metallic in their musical progression, their themes of depression, isolation, sorrow, and hopelessness have carried on with them and their sound. Let us now witness the journey of the masters of doom and gloom.

Dance Of December Souls (1993)

On the convenient date of December 14th 1993, Katatonia release their debut album Dance of December Souls. This record is highly representative of the early 1990s death/doom metal style popular in Europe at this time, with My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost all releasing highly regarded albums this year as well. This remains to be one of the most unique albums in Katatonia's discography, sounding almost nothing like anything they would go on to release in the 2000s. A haunting and chilling atmosphere lingers throughout the record's duration, with ice-cold lyrics such as "your fucking god is dead, shall forever be" delivered in a manner that would send shivers up the spines of the most pious of Christian followers. There is an abundance of goose bump-inducing keyboard melodies courtesy of Dan Swanö that also differentiate this release from most other Katatonia albums. Unlike the band's typical song lengths usually ranging from the four to five minute mark, two songs "Velvet Thorns (Of Drynwhyl)" and "Tomb of Insomnia" are able to eclipse thirteen minutes, lending an epic quality to this experience. The songs follow a much more meandering and wavy pattern, which is similar to the way many progressive metal epics are constructed. This directly contrasts with the more straightforward, repetitive pattern that songs from the next two albums especially will follow. Dance of December Souls is the only album in the band's discography in which lead singer Jonas Renkse would perform his blackened death-styled shrieks before he would lose the ability of performing harsh vocals properly, one of the band's main reasons for their change in musical direction.

Overall, a very solid start for this soon-to-be legendary act.

Rating: 4.25/5

Recommended Tracks: "Without God", "Tomb of Insomnia", "Velvet Thorns (Of Dyrnwhyl)"

Brave Murder Day (1996)

By the time the year 1996 rolled along, Jonas Renkse would lose the ability to growl and so the band would enlist the help of fellow musician and friend Mikael Åkerfeldt, who was also working on Morningrise with his own band Opeth and lending guest vocals to Crimson from Dan Swanö's Edge Of Sanity, to perform vocal duties on their second and arguably most highly regarded opus, Brave Murder Day. On this album, there is a noticeable stylistic shift from the epic, gothic style of their first album in favor of a simpler, more repetitive style of doom metal while Mikael maintains the death metal vocals. This rhythmic, simplistic method provides for a very hypnotic atmosphere as the seemingly bare-bones approach of the melancholic music forces the listener to confront their own feelings of sorrow and despair; this actually works more effectively to the advantage of the record than the more glorified, romanticized approach of Dance of December Souls. The overall performance is tighter and more focused on this release, providing for a more effective and concise listen through the whole album. It is from this release that the band would be able to capture the true essence of melancholia in its pure, honest form, and be able to develop it further with succeeding albums, making it their defining style for years to come.

A major influence for many important modern doom metal acts, including Swallow The Sun and Daylight Dies, and a landmark album in the history of the genre.

Rating: 4.3/5

Recommended Tracks: "Brave", "Endtime", "12", "Day"

Discouraged Ones (1998)

With Brave Murder Day a great success for the band, Katatonia is now able to create an identity for itself and carve out its signature sound even further than before, and that is exactly what they do with their third release in 1998's Discouraged Ones. This album marks an important turning point in the band's musical progression that succeeding albums will continue to follow. They replace their old pentagram logo with a more gothic-fashioned logo, the song lengths are much shorter, the production is stronger, and perhaps most importantly, the harsh vocals no longer play any key role in the band's sound; in its place are Jonas' sorrowful clean vocals which are very much reminiscent of Robert Smith from The Cure. With these changes however, the musical style is not all that different from their previous album; Discouraged Ones is still played in a straightforward and repetitive manner just as with Brave Murder Day, and the production still has a raw, distorted sound that compliments the directly dark approach of each song. This album perfects the hypnotically melancholic sound that Brave Murder Day set the foundations for and is able to bring the listener down to even lower levels of sadness, with help from the appropriately weeping guitar melodies courtesy of Anders Nyström. With all of this being said, this is probably the most beautifully depressing album the band has written thus far. Gone are the symphonic, epic clichés of the past, and in its place is a sorrowful wake in remembrance of the "discouraged ones".

A true classic in the Katatonia discography.

Rating: 4.75/5

Recommended Tracks: "Deadhouse", "Last Resort", "I Break", "Cold Ways", "Saw You Drown"

Tonight's Decision (1999)

With the New Millennium looming on the horizon, Katatonia sought to change their style once again into more of a harder-edged alternative rock style, while still retaining their recurring themes of all things dark and gloomy. The resulting effort with 1999's Tonight's Decision would show the band working with a much more dynamic songwriting style and a stronger emphasis on traditional verse-chorus structure than the previous releases, and a thicker production which would become even crisper with the following albums. Working in a more dynamic environment, the band is able to come up with several unique individual ideas throughout the album, such as the gothic anthem "I Am Nothing" and the somber ballad "A Darkness Coming". However with this new change in songwriting style leaves the overall flow of the album feeling somewhat inconsistent and harder to follow. Some of the ideas presented on this album, like the song "Had To (Leave)", are somewhat under-developed compared to any of the other songs and makes this one of the slightly weaker albums in Katatonia's impressive discography. Nevertheless, the band will continue to develop and hone their craft, and the songwriting on each succeeding album will only become stronger as a result.

A worthy addition to Katatonia's catalogue.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended Tracks: "I Am Nothing", "Strained", "A Darkness Coming"

Last Fair Deal Gone Down (2001)

With 2001's Last Fair Deal Gone Down, the band's first album of the 2000's essentially begins where their previous album left off, however the band is able to make a more cohesive whole this time around, having a better idea on where to take their sound. The overall flow of the album is more consistent than that of the previous album and much of the songwriting has also improved, with every track containing something unique to offer the listener. Jonas Renkse has demonstrated noticeable improvement in his capabilities and confidence as a "clean" lead singer, which will continue to be improved upon with the following albums. There also seems to be a return to keyboard usage on this album not heard much since the almost symphonic keyboards of Dance of December Souls; mellotron is frequently used on songs like "Future of Speech", "I Transpire" and "Dispossession". This album demonstrates a band with growing confidence in its melancholic brand of metal music, and this will pay off with even more successful albums for the remainder of their career.

Another very solid and strong offering from these melancholic Swedes.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Songs: "Sweet Nurse", "Dispossession", "Clean Today", "Teargas", "Tonight's Music"

Viva Emptiness (2003)

Two years after their last album, Katatonia would return with one of their heaviest albums since the early death/doom metal era, and quite possibly the magnum opus of their career in 2003's Viva Emptiness. This is the album where the band's songwriting and performance really shines forth the brightest than any other album they have released. Every song is outstanding and flows perfectly into the next, leaving the listener with the most complete experience Katatonia has ever provided thus far. There are very few if any moments that feel out of place in this melancholic thrill ride. The heavier moments are balanced very nicely with the softer moments of beauty, such as the almost romantically delicate "Omerta" going into the monstrous doom-laden instrumental outro, "Inside The City of Glass". This album may perhaps be one of the few in history to make the use of swear words not only appropriate, but also extremely poignant in expressing the important themes and emotions this album contains within. After many years of hard work and dedication to their craft, the band Katatonia has created a real masterpiece with Viva Emptiness.

A work of genius in melancholic and disconsolate beauty.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Songs: The Entire Album

The Great Cold Distance (2006)

With a masterfully crafted album such as Viva Emptiness as a band's previous release, it would be difficult for anyone to be able to follow it up with an album that is just as good, if not better. Fortunately for Katatonia, their next effort in 2006 with the The Great Cold Distance is able to meet the standards of their previous album, and be a superb release in its own right. With this album, the band sounds perhaps the heaviest they have ever sounded in their entire career, and that includes the death/doom metal from the past. Starting with Viva Emptiness, the band has moved towards more of a modern dark metal style, which is fully embraced on this album as the change in logo design may suggest. The songwriting is just as impressive as the previous album, even if this album's flow is slightly less consistent. The album also sounds increasingly more progressive than the previous as well, with various atmospheric breaks and subtle keyboards being incorporated in songs such as "Consternation" and "Deliberation". The Great Cold Distance shows the band exploring the length of their sound even further, and expanding upon what made Viva Emptiness so important.

An excellent follow-up, and a powerful album on its own.

Rank: 4.5/5

Recommended Songs: "Leaders", "Consternation", "My Twin", "Rusted", "Soil's Song"

Night Is The New Day (2009)

In 2009, the year their next album Night Is The New Day would be released, Katatonia sought to once again experiment more with their sound. With the exception of a few heavy songs such as "Forsaker" and "Day And Then The Shade", this album would show the band working in a softer, mellow environment, where the usage of electronic, trip-hop styled keyboards would be the most frequent in their career. The songwriting itself is very strong, though maybe not quite as impressive as the last couple of releases; the second half of this album tends to flow not quite as well as the first half, though impressive moments are also common here. There is sometimes the feeling that the band is trying to go both ways with the beautiful softer side, and the harder hitting, metal side, which makes the album feel slightly less consistent compared to the previous two releases. Nevertheless the album as a whole is certainly very strong and shows the band expanding their horizons even further. It still works as a great start for anyone just getting into the band as well (this being the writer's first Katatonia album).

A beautiful and atmospheric release.

Rating: 4.25/5

Recommended Tracks: "Forsaker" "The Longest Year", "Idle Blood", "Day And Then The Shade", "Departer"

Dead End Kings (2012)

With their most recent album at the time of this article, Dead End Kings, Katatonia continue the softer, mellower approach of their previous release, while also combining elements from other works such as The Great Cold Distance and Viva Emptiness. The electronic keyboards from Night Is The New Day still appear on this album, however the use of piano and cello is much more common this time, appearing in highlights such as "The Racing Heart" and "Leech". The album is still not without its heavier moments however, with "Buildings" and "Dead Letters" being among the heaviest songs written during their modern era. This release is more or less a culmination of past releases while also adding its own unique atmospheric touch, differentiating it from other releases the band has to offer. While still a continuation of the mellower approach from Night Is The Day, the approach is solidified further, with the overall flow having improved and the songwriting remaining more consistent through the duration of the album.

A soon-to-be Katatonia classic in due time.

Rating: 4.4/5

Recommended Tracks: "Leech", "The Racing Heart", "Dead Letters", "Undo You", "Lethean"

For the past 20 years, the band Katatonia has evolved remarkably from their early death/doom metal roots, to become one of the most renowned and respected bands in the modern metal scene. With every release, they have expanded upon their music, while still maintaining everything that makes Katatonia the finest band to embody the darker side of our inner thoughts and emotions.

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments: 7   Visited by: 159 users
31.10.2012 - 01:45
Secundum Filium
For anyone wondering what happened to this article, apparently a bug/error of some sort caused the article to be deleted. It wasn't any fault of mine, but I apologize for that. Enjoy!
Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe (Lao Tzu).
31.10.2012 - 01:46
Yes, sorry everyone; Katatonia worship may resume as normal!
"A life all mine
Is what I choose
At the end of my days"
--The Gathering "A Life All Mine" from Souvenirs
31.10.2012 - 08:02
Not a fan of their earliest works. Tonight's Decision and LFDGD are pretty good, and everything after that is amazing. I agree that Viva Emptiness is their masterpiece.
But I Justify My Desire to No One
19.11.2012 - 17:32
Why is Night is the new day rated to 10 when the other albums only to 5?
19.11.2012 - 20:04
Secundum Filium
Written by Aristarchos on 19.11.2012 at 17:32

Why is Night is the new day rated to 10 when the other albums only to 5?

Thanks for letting me know, i'll change that.
Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe (Lao Tzu).
20.11.2012 - 10:25
By the way, very well-written article and good description of the albums sounds, although I generally find the ratings a little bit too high.
20.11.2012 - 18:23
Secundum Filium
Written by Aristarchos on 20.11.2012 at 10:25

By the way, very well-written article and good description of the albums sounds, although I generally find the ratings a little bit too high.

Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe (Lao Tzu).

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