Sound — 7
Katatonia formed in Sweden in 1991, and began working on their own type of metal, and in the process went through a lot of changes. Their first releases are thought to be an early form of what would come to be known as the genres gloom and death metal. Of course, with each release they've drifted away from their original sound. While their music is still dark, it is only metal in the loosest sense of the word at this point. Listening to modern gloom and death metal bands, you would easily find much more in the way of parallels with Katatonia by listening to bands such as Porcupine Tree. The only original members left in the band are Jonas Renske (on lead vocals) and Anders Nystrom (on backing vocals and guitar). While their current music is very different from their original sound, it isn't a bad thing, but very different from the direction the band was initially taking. This, however, isn't a new change for the band but began very early on in their career and has continued further in a progressive direction with each release.
Listening to the album, the first thing I think is the band manages to clearly show they originated as a metal band, but at the same time give a very laid back vibe. The use of negative space in "Dead End Kings" is a stroke of genius, as well as the thin melodies that run through the songs on the album. The drum work was especially impressive, not from a "virtuosity" playing perspective, but using the drums as not only a "backline" beat but as another texture in the song, which they utilize to great effect throughout the album. I have no complaints about the other instruments, but the drums really stood out as exceptional to me. There are 11 tracks on the album, or 13 on the "Limited Deluxe Edition". On the standard version of the album, which I am reviewing, the runtime is right at 49 minutes. This is a respectable length for an album, but on a progressive album I usually expect for the runtime to hit an hour or longer - maybe this is just me, though.
Lyrics — 7
Jonas Renske has been doing vocals for Katatonia since being a founder of the band back in 1991. His vocal delivery has changed over time to a more somber and clean type of vocal, but it works great with their brand of metal/progressive rock that they have been performing for more than half of their career. Jonas quit singing death metal vocals completely in 1996, and at this point forward only sang. In comparison to their earlier albums you can hear a difference in Jonas's skill as he has grown into his role as lead vocalist, even as his vocals have become cleaner. On their earlier albums Jonas was both the vocalist and drummer, and after making the decision to focus exclusively on vocals the improvement has been phenomenal.
As a sample of the lyrics, here are some lyrics from the song "The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here" (where Silje Wergeland from the band The Gathering joins Jonas on vocals): "This breaking vow/ rests so near to my tongue/ anchor on the cloud/ shade upon the sun/ you took my word for it/ the vanishing of doubt/ will unfold my empty space/ your time froze over/ I must lead the way to this conclusion/ I let you inherit these words I think/ do you see how death will bestow seclusion/ the one you are looking for is hidden from you/ In my absence now/ when time will pass/ and nothingness abide/ see the evening rise/ and take my word for it/ focuses beyond your vision/ will unfold my empty space/ your time froze over". As you can see from these lyrics, Katatonia's lyrics are both surreal and melancholy, which is the same as it has been since the beginning for them.
Overall Impression — 7
If I had to compare Katatonia to another band, especially in regards to "Dead End Kings", I would have to say there are some parallels with Pink Floyd - not necessarily from a "sound" standpoint so much as a similarity in the way I feel when listening to them. There is a melancholy and almost depressive vibe, but you still see the glimmer of hope just at the edge of the horizon. I wouldn't recommend this album to a death metal enthusiast, as that isn't what this is at all, even though they were considered a forerunner in the genre. I think that fans of progressive rock and metal would be able to enjoy this album, especially as an album played for a long drive or for chilling out.
I enthusiastically enjoyed the drums throughout the album, and can't send enough praise that way. My favorite songs on the album would have to be "The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here", "The Racing Heart" and "Undo You". There are no songs I dislike on the album, but the album as a whole is something that I have to be in the right laid back mood to really enjoy. I'm not complaining, but as a heads up this isn't a high adrenaline metal album - this is a meandering, melancholy progressive album with a little metal thrown into the mix.