In the wake of 2009’s stunning Night Is The New Day, many questioned how Katatonia could possibly follow it, and it’s testament to their talent that they did so with such consummate style. With their 20th anniversary behind them, the Swedes returned with a rejuvenated line-up to deliver Dead End Kings, an emotional, achingly beautiful collection of songs that placed them at the very peak of progressive metal.
While recording the densely layered album, however, the band made an intriguing discovery: take the drums and heavy guitars out of the mix and a whole new soundscape begins to emerge, a mellow cinematic montage which presents radically revised interpretations of the material. Although the idea of getting two albums out of one was initially little more than a joke, it became apparent that it was actually a stroke of genius. Mental cogs whirred, wheels were put in motion and, a year later, Dethroned & Uncrowned is now a resplendent reality, all the more amazing for being a fan-funded release.
As lush and atmospheric as this V.2.0 is, Dethroned & Uncrowned is so much more than Dead End Kings-lite. Although the gloomy, introspective strains of the original lend themselves perfectly to such a stripped-bare reboot, the re-imagining actually amplifies the stark beauty and small-hours subtlety of the songs, even as it takes the volume down and down again. The added touches and textures – acoustic guitars, strings and the like – simply enhance the transformation.
With gentle melancholy intact, The Parting makes for an easy introduction and, while The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here brings vocals and strings to the fore, Hypnone hangs on skeletal piano and guitar interplay. Quieter moments such as The Racing Heart, Leech and Ambitions are now almost impossibly fragile.
Buildings opens a cathedral-sized chasm at the album’s heart, filling it with emptiness and setting the stage for a second half that grows ever darker and denser as it unfolds. The pastoral heartache of Undo You and the chills of Lethean and First Prayer draw us inexorably to the bleak Dead Letters. This closes the chapter on all the hopelessness, vulnerability and capitulation contained therein.
Ultimately, this special treatment of a very special album won’t be for everyone, but for Katatonia it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The band are aiming to back up the album with a tour that applies this treatment to earlier songs too. Let’s hope they pull it off, as that would be a truly spellbinding spectacle.