When bands start to rummage around down the back of the sofa for rarities and out-takes, the resultant collections are nearly always, and inevitably, a little sketchy. Not so here, as Katatonia plunder the vaults, and reveal that the Swedes’ ruthless quality control extends to all the stuff we haven’t heard too.
With more than two hours of B-sides, EP deep cuts, collaborative remixes and unheard album songs, Mnemosynean is a generous treasure trove for die-hard fans, but it works equally well as an introduction to the band’s oeuvre in its immersive entirety. It spans their entire career, from 1994’s 10-minute, gothic metal monolith Scarlet Heavens (Katatonia were definitely big Cure fans!) to unreleased songs recorded during sessions for 2016’s The Fall Of Hearts, and features just as many heart-stopping moments as those revered studio records.
Those off-cuts from The Fall Of Hearts are worth the price of entry alone. Vakaren, Wide Awake In Quietus, Night Comes Down and, in particular, Sistere are among the most beautiful and memorable songs Katatonia have ever recorded and certainly deserve to be reconsidered here. Similarly, it’s hard not to chuckle at the audacity of having songs as potent and sophisticated as The Age Of Darkening and Ashen and, originally at least, releasing them only as bonus tracks (on 2016’s Dead End Kings). In this context, all of these dusty gems are finally allowed to shine, and even though this is a patchwork of material from different eras and different studios, Katatonia’s gift for refined, melodic melancholy has been a constant presence.
Arranged chronologically backwards, with those remixes tagged on the end, Mnemosynean may be many fans’ introduction to the earliest days of the band. Songs such as the elegantly unnerving Help Me Disappear, recorded 20 years ago, are clearly a little rough around the edges in comparison with the bigger-budget perfection of recent recordings, but they each confirm that Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström hit top songwriting form early and just kept going. Meanwhile, Swedish electro-guru Krister Linder’s remix of Soil’s Song is a mesmerising trip hop fever dream with oscillating bottom end that will haunt your dreams, while My Twin (Opium Dub Version) dismantles its source material, rebuilding it before a grand backdrop of somnambulant beats and gurgling synths.
An excellent stopgap-cum-companion piece to 2020’s City Burials, Mnemosynean is what happens when great musicians realise, to their great delight, that they keep making great music and simply don’t know how to stop. What a band.