Sound — 6
It seems the veteran masters of depressive, artsy metal have had enough of routine. Katatonia's ninth album, "Dead End Kings," was a step into the esoteric for the Swedes, infusing their naturally pessimistic drudge with more strings, synths and experimental ideas than ever before. But one year on, they've taken it a step further and decided to remake the whole thing with different goals in mind. The original was stacked with good songs, but the band saw something else lurking underneath the distortion and here decide to fully expose it. With this, arguably their most ambitious work in many years, they've promised a rebuilt, reimagined look at the entire album, letting its ambient and progressive elements shine through with the heaviness totally stripped back. "Dethroned & Uncrowned" has the advantage of being crafted by the people who know their music best; fans do not want to hear butchered versions of songs which were perfect the first time around. The trouble is that having written these songs once, Katatonia are not going to write them again. And so it is that this progressive "reimagination" largely became a remix and acoustic album. The now-absent drum grooves of Daniel Liljekvist are replicated with acoustic jangling, meaning the rhythmic engine runs almost exactly as it did on "Dead End Kings," and the dynamic ebb and flow is identical in most cases. This represents a missed opportunity; the likes of "Hypnone" and "Dead Letters" are decent renditions of good songs, but for these reasons they are effectively acoustic duplications. "The Racing Heart" sets a better example, mapping its brooding synths and melancholy vocals onto a blank canvas which allows the natural rhythm of the melody to shine through. "Leech" is similarly refreshing, tying the original chorus to a disjointed but emotionally invested conversation between piano, strings and woodwind. The highly polished gloom is enjoyable throughout, but the best moments undoubtedly come when the band cast off any kind of pacesetter and delve into ambient territory.
Lyrics — 8
"Dethroned" uses Jonas Renkse's original vocal tracks so the lyrics are, of course, identical. Their themes have been extensively covered elsewhere and we need not remind ourselves of them here. It's interesting to note how the soft, vulnerable heartbreak in Renkse's voice seems to change when he is the loudest instrument rather than the quietest. Finding yourself deprived of big riffs and thundering drums would emasculate most metal vocalists, but Renkse is shown to be incredibly versatile in the way he adapts to tranquillity. Texture is, however, the only real change. Remixes usually work because they sample the original tracks and reshape their phrases to say something different. See Frank Default's intoxicating 2010 take on "Day & Then the Shade" for an example of how Katatonia's gothic missives can be reshaped to suit other styles of music. Nothing like that occurs here, but that doesn't stop the changes from being curious at times.
Overall Impression — 7
Assessing this album is difficult. The high quality of the songs is not in question (if you're new to Katatonia, "Dead End Kings" is as good a place to start as any) but the definitive versions of tracks like "The Racing Heart" are still backed by drums and distorted guitars. Ultimately, the title is instructive. "Dethroned & Uncrowned" strips its predecessor for parts and rebuilds it with cosmetic changes instead of creating something new. It could have been so much more.