Katatonia have just made their best album in 20 years with City Burials

Swedish gloom-masters Katatonia hit cinematic gold on their 11th album

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Stockholm gloom kings Katatonia have never put a foot wrong in nearly 30 years, always pushing forward, always uniquely Katatonia. Singer Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström first commanded the underground’s attention with Katatonia’s 1992 demo, and by 1998’s Discouraged Ones, Jonas’s alarmingly vulnerable clean vocals were centre-stage, Anders’ doomy riffs streamlined into profoundly emotive, achingly sparse structures.

With each LP Katatonia have grown in confidence and craft, but we were still digesting 2016’s dense progressive opus, The Fall Of Hearts, when the band announced a “hiatus” to “re-evaluate what the future holds.” Happily, the future is Katatonia releasing better albums.

Immediately upfront, Jonas’s voice again reaches new heights, his increased dexterity and technique never compromising his raw emotion. The band deploy
every skill they’ve learnt; subtle complexities are counterpointed by heads-down riffing, while Jonas regains a caustic six-string heft on progressive headbangers Behind The Blood and Rein. Advance cut Lacquer was a leftfield teaser; its lush electronic balladry might otherwise feel like an interlude between heavier songs, but its fragile beauty deserves attention, and its spirit runs through the album’s quieter moments.

For those who came to Katatonia via their scrupulously uncluttered late 90s work, the layers of detail in their modern sound might feel overstated, like they’ve been visited by the ghost of George Martin. Songs like Flicker, Winter Of Our Passing and City Glaciers would be equally powerful without all the keys, synths, strings and effects, but here’s where Katatonia nail that sumptuous, cinematic dynamism. Feeling like the album Tool might have made if they’d remembered what actual human emotions were, City Burials is arguably Katatonia’s strongest album for 20 years.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.