Sunday, 29 November 2009

Katatonia - Night Is The New Day Album Review (2009)

Great to hear from these guys again even if they are playing it safe and predictable.

For The Music Magazine...

Swedish doom-metal is not everyone's idea of an easy listen. But Katatonia, the five-piece from Stockholm has thankfully evolved from the early days of grinding guitars, growling vocals and a distinct lack of tunes. This all changed in the late nineties with the band transforming from doom to gloom and more importantly from melancholy to melody. As the music got heavier, it has become more diverse; breaking away from the old formula. The best example of this is the glorious Viva Emptiness, an exceptional piece of work that is yet to be surpassed.

It is always interesting to hear what bands do after they release a 'Best Of' compilation, especially if it is only after a few really good albums. This is what Katatonia did next. An odd move, designed mainly to expose the band to a wider audience and showcase later work. The follow-up to Viva Emptiness is The Great Cold Distance, well received in 2006 but not quite pulling in the quality of the previous album. So in 2009, the band still going strong, lead by Jonas Renkse and backed by the dual guitarists of Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norrman, release an eighth full-length album: Night Is The New Day.

From the outset this is classic Katatonia. Opener Forsaker moves effortlessly from muddy guitars to Renkse's soft listless vocals and back again in the first two minutes, bringing on a soaring solo at the mid point. Renkse delivers a typical downbeat message with "The dark will rise; abandon your freedom. Give up the right to find your true self; forsake your own reason". Drummer Daniel Liljekvist shines in the outro. Another highlight is the remarkably tuneful Idle Blood. Renkse is superb from "You there. Bringer of my despair" to "...But I am turning my back on you; you know I do" recalling a moment of self-loathing or the hatred of a nemesis. Even the song's darkest lyrics are delivered with a light touch into a final dream-like minute.

Throughout the album Katatonia sticks to a now well-established plan. The Longest Year is quiet, delicate and reflective verses bringing a heavier anthemic chorus only twice in the four and half minute running time. Liberation follows the same format, albeit more pronounced and with an excellent added guitar, bass and drum interlude, before the final word from Renkse. The wonderfully gothic Nephilim arrives in a torrent of wicked grinding chords. The dual vocals lift an otherwise arduous trudge through familiar territory. Inheritance is probably the most ambient song Katatonia has produced, flowing into a fragile drifting minimalism. Late on, first (and probably only) single Day And Then The Shade should be the most hard-hitting track, in spite of lacking a memorable chorus but ultimately the whole arrangement is flat and lifeless. This leads to closer Departer, the album's longest song. It is also the most beguiling with breathless ghostly vocals, no obvious riffs, and a very subdued elongated ending to an unsurprising album.

Renkse has described Night Is The New Day as Katatonia's most varied and diverse material on the same album. This is not entirely evident even after repeat listens, and even after that it is debatable. The band's distinct sound and a tendency to create songs within a restricted formula does create a predictability and a safeness, even if they are played with skill and imagination. You know what you are getting and there are few surprises. Within this, musically Katatonia has never sounded more controlled and focused. It is elegant and delicate, full of open spaces and deep breaths, but few really outstanding moments. The big problem is for three albums now, Katatonia has not moved on. It is very much the case of not messing with a safe thing.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

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