After 25 years of conjuring new ways to express dismay and despair, Katatonia could be forgiven for running out of ideas at this point.
As a result, The Fall Of Hearts seems even more remarkable. The Swedes’ 10th studio album, it not only manages to trump the widely applauded evolutionary steps of Night Is The New Day and Dead End Kings, but also takes this most gently distinctive of bands into ever-more adventurous territory. In fact, the acclaimed re-imaginings of Dethroned And Uncrowned (2014’s Dead End Kings redux) have plainly had some impact on the band’s compositional process.
Stunning, heart-rending stuff from start to finish.
The seven-minute opener Takeover boldly encapsulates everything that makes this such a phenomenal piece of work. From its brooding starting point to several unexpected but gloriously fluid changes of pace and mood, it’s a mini-manifesto for a collection that exerts an almost unbearable emotional force; Jonas Renkse’s unmistakable voice once again making every oblique pronouncement sound like a final, tearful farewell to everything the human heart holds dear. And, yes, although death’s fearsome full stop hovers ominously in the air throughout, Katatonia’s unerring ability to wring twinkling drops of hope from their vast reservoirs of melancholy has seldom been more keen. The succinct, elegantly textured likes of Serein, Old Heart Falls and Shifts pull off the impressive trick of being simultaneously uplifting and unsettling; a soundtrack to mortal uncertainty, perhaps, or a troubled mind’s inner turmoil exposed to the nourishing warmth of an ageless sun. Either way, it’s stunning, heart-rending stuff from start to finish.
As ever, there are countless moments of profound musical ingenuity here. As comfortable and commanding amid the fervently progressive detours and deceptions of the thunderous Serac as they are amid the exquisite restraint of the partially acoustic Pale Flag, Katatonia share a little DNA with kindred spirits Opeth, even mischievously echoing some of their melodic quirks on a couple of occasions. No one but Renkse could imbue the rampaging Last Song Before The Fade with such exquisite pathos, while the overpowering deluge of inspired guitar work that drives more epic fare like the sober, spectral Residual and the soft focus, Mellotron menace of The Night Subscriber confirms that Anders Nyström is one of modern prog’s most sublime talents.
Loudly confirming what the fans have known for years, The Fall Of Hearts is simply Katatonia’s crowning achievement to date. That, if nothing else, should cheer them up a bit.