Katatonia, live in London

Intense Swedish proggers hit Shepherd's Bush Empire

A photograph of Katatonia on stage

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Openers VOLA hit the stage at barely 6.30pm to a surprisingly healthy audience. Blending metal, electronica, industrial and power pop, these Danes get the crowd on-side from the outset with the twisting verses and stirring choruses of The Same War. Points of reference are the likes of Opeth, Haken, Porcupine Tree and even Frost*, and dark prog, stridency, eclectic ambience and memorable vocal hooks are evident on tracks such as Starburn and Stray The Skies from the band’s debut album Inmazes. These get an engaging live shakedown.

Icelandic alt-metallers Agent Fresco juggle influences and challenge preconceptions. While heavy and sinister at times, guitarist Þórarinn Guðnason spends at least a third of the gig playing piano, drummer Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson often displays a slightly counterintuitive approach, and singer Arnór Dan Arnarson’s delivery contains hints of light opera/musical theatre as he strides incessantly, purposefully and vaguely ominously around the stage.

They confound easy labels. Pyre starts as a weird dance/funk ballad, morphing into a twisted jazz rock-tinged workout. Howls – “a song about family” – darts breathlessly between baffling time signatures and bizarrely constructed vocals. Final song The Autumn Red feels a bit like Pain Of Salvation meets They Might Be Giants! On this showing, latest album Destrier demands attention.

The Empire is utterly rammed for Katatonia performing their classic record The Great Cold Distance. The minimalist, gloomy, red-lit stage boasts simple banners emblazoned with the album’s cover art as the band launch into Leaders. It’s an intense ride for over an hour of morose introspection, dystopian reveries, and the juxtaposition of fragile and brutal.

There’s a crowd singalong on Deliberation, while standout tracks such as Consternation and Rusted garner rapturous receptions from a devoted audience. The band are a vision of flailing hair and backlit, shadowy faces, and the performance is mature and thoroughly polished, even if Jonas Renkse’s vocals do seem to struggle occasionally early on.

Returning after a short interval, the band experience tech failure with keyboard backing tracks going AWOL. Laptop rebooted, fans are treated to a set of greatest hits from across Katatonia’s career. Fresher fare from last album The Fall Of Hearts, like Serein and Old Heart Falls, contrasts with older crowd favourites like Dead Letters and Evidence, marking how they’ve developed over the years.

Unrelenting drummer Daniel Moilanen keeps the energy levels up, injecting passion and consistency. The band even slip in the raw doom metal of Gateways Of Bereavement from their debut album, not aired live for 20 years, Renkse doing a decent job with a vocal style he rarely visits nowadays.

Perhaps a little too lachrymose and self‑absorbed for some, tonight Katatonia have given their fans all they may have realistically expected, and more besides.

Gary Mackenzie

Gary has contributed reviews and news features for Prog Magazine for over a decade now. A fan of prog and heavy rock since childhood, his main areas of interest are classic and symphonic prog, prog-metal and modern acts bringing in fresh influences to the genre. He has a professional background in youth and community work, he teaches drum kit in schools and is a working musician. Gary was the drummer in semi-legendary NWOBHM band Praying Mantis for a couple of years and has been a member of indie-prog-pop-art-rock combo The Mighty Handful for more than twenty years. He loves cats and skiing, and has a Blue Peter badge.