Katatonia - City Burials review

It’s like the Swedes have never been away. Because they haven’t.

(Image: © Kscope)

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And the award for shortest “hiatus” goes to… Katatonia. Barely a year after ending 2017 with an announcement that they would be going their separate ways for a while, the Swedish prog metal giants announced tour dates and a deluxe reissue to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Night Is The New Day. And based on this new studio set we can only applaud their realisation that trial separations are overrated.

City Burials plays to their strengths from the first bars, as Heart Set To Divide delivers the kind of slow-building, emotionally charged pomp-prog that Katatonia have increasingly perfected over the course of their evolution from the swamps of early 90s doom metal. But we’re also soon reminded that they’ve lost no teeth in their old age, as Behind The Blood roars in with visceral force, wrapped in crackling, kinetic fretwork from (relatively) new boy Roger Öjersson. That track’s intensity is then lifted further with a windswept tragic hero of a chorus, ending with the dramatic admission, ‘I can feel you pierce my heart’.

A complete change of pace might come in the shape of the sweetly mournful Lacquer, dotted with plucked strings and backed by Daniel Moilanen’s subtle, tiptoeing breakbeat, but it’s just as impactful, albeit aimed at a different part of your listening consciousness. The abiding mood, though, you’ll probably be comforted to learn, is heavy and dark. 

The tensely despondent riffs and pummelling drums that punctuate Rein are another stirring lowlight, and the stuttering prog rhythm of City Glaciers heightens the gloomy unease that envelopes Katatonia’s best songs like a fog.

But while this record plays to the band’s long-established strengths, they’re not afraid to push at the boundaries of their trademark sound. Vanishers is enhanced by symphonic metal dressing in the form of alluring backing vocals from Stockholm singer-songwriter Anni Bernhard (aka Full Of Keys).

Meanwhile, the midnight meditation of Lachesis is lent added eerie atmosphere by ghostly multi-tracked vocals, but such studio treatment doesn’t detract from Jonas Renkse’s increasingly understated but emotionally resonant voice.

The album signs off (if you don’t have the extra tracks available on a couple of other formats) with the elegiac strains of Untrodden, which once again builds into a yearning epic laced with sky-clawing guitar dynamics. And again there’s
a wistful quality to the vocal delivery that means Katatonia’s brand of melodramatic melancholia will always sound more affecting and authentic than some of their more formulaic counterparts. Welcome back, chaps – you’re ageing far too well to stop now. 

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Johnny Sharp

Johnny is a regular contributor to Prog and Classic Rock magazines, both online and in print. Johnny is a highly experienced and versatile music writer whose tastes range from prog and hard rock to R’n’B, funk, folk and blues. He has written about music professionally for 30 years, surviving the Britpop wars at the NME in the 90s (under the hard-to-shake teenage nickname Johnny Cigarettes) before branching out to newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent and magazines such as Uncut, Record Collector and, of course, Prog and Classic Rock