Today’s competitive music market has led to many artists struggling under the pressure to deliver music that lives up to the greatness that launched their careers. Katatonia are a band that seem to have done everything backwards, and right now they are in a great position for it.
On their ninth studio release, the Swedes step even further from tried-and-tested formulas to create something truly unique and invigorating. The lush symphonics of Dead End Kings opener The Parting are an early indication of what to expect from the next 50 minutes, with string and piano parts filling the voids where crunchy guitars once reigned.
The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here features the haunting voice of The Gathering’s Silje Wergeland against hypnotic grooves that aren’t far off the mellower realms of Tool – especially in the way they lead into next track, Hypnone. Jonas Renkse sounds as tortured as ever, but in their darkest moments his voice is a glimmer of hope in an orchestral wash of bleakness, guiding us through this sombre pilgrimage into the dark centre of Man’s soul. It’s always fascinating how music this gloriously miserable can be uplifting in its curiosities.
The experimental detours of The Racing Heart and Leech show what a diverse beast Katatonia have become, the latter stretching to near Portishead levels of electronic atmospherics. What makes this record particularly stunning is that each track stands alone in its sense of grandeur and ability to conjure up a vast amount of emotional wealth, an art which Katatonia have perfected over the course of their time together.
The riffs of Buildings and Lethean do well to break up the synth-led spells for moments that nod back to their roots, rich in melancholic heaviness that is continually engaging. The near stoner grooves of First Prayer and Dead Letters close the album in fine form indeed, pushing further into the progressive through a blend of heightened dynamics and melodic twists, and in the process sealing yet another masterpiece over a career spanning two decades.
This journey of self-reflection and despair will see Katatonia step out from the shadows of their peers and become one of the leading purveyors of pain and dysphoria.