Monday, May 16, 2016

Album Review: Katatonia - The Fall Of Hearts

“Despair has its own calms.” - Bram Stoker, Dracula.

Katatonia's career has become defined by that idea. What was once a sound of doom and death evolved into something softer, but no less tethered to the darkness. For the last twenty years, Katatonia has carved out a sound all their own, a melodic darkness that can be both beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. While some will say that they have stagnated, and haven't changed for too long, the argument could just as easily be made that there is no reason to change, because they have perfected what they are trying to do. When you hear Katatonia, they cannot be mistaken for anyone else. Their identity, like that of Dracula, is indelible.

Perhaps no band, no matter how heavy they proclaim themselves to be, has captured the pure sound of despair better than Katatonia. There is something to Jonas Renske's voice, married to the way the band layers guitar parts, that is a black hole sucking the happiness out of any song. You don't need to have synesthesia to know that Kataonia's music is gray.

What is different this time around is that the band stretches their legs a bit more. Over the course of this hour of music, the songs more regularly hit the five, six, and seven minute marks. They are in no hurry to get from Point A to Point B, and because of that, this album does actually feel different than the last few. The opening song here, "Takeover", is one I would not have expected to fit on any recent album. Over the course of seven minutes, it builds upon a few tricky riffs, throws in a solo piano moment, and culminates in a refrain with layers of Renske's voice echoing as if off the cold stone walls of an emotional prison. It's one of those cases where the journey is more important then the destination.

The following track, "Serein", proves Katatonia's genius. It's a simple song, one that I honestly would struggle to recall in great detail, but when listening to it, there is something utterly captivating about the sound. The Katatonia sound, as defined as it is, makes every musical idea sound more important than they often are.

With an album of this length, it's easy to look at a song like "Sanction", and think the record might be better off without it. While it does give a heavier tilt that the record can put to good use, it pales compared to the softer, more melodic fare lik "Residual". Katatonia is at their best when they can be heavy emotionally more than sonically, and that holds true on these tracks. The best moments are the ones where Anders Nystrom gives Renske ample space to place his forlorn melodies. The exception to that rule is in "Serac", which might be the heaviest number here, and borrows the feeling of Opeth's "Bleak" in some of the riffing, which elevates the song into a progressive twist of music with a strong anchor.

At a certain point, all you can say about a new Katatonia record is that it is another Katatonia record. They are singular, like Motorhead was, and trying to parse the differences misses the big picture. "The Fall Of Hearts" is an album that delivers exactly what you would expect from Katatonia. It's dark, beautiful, and sounds like nothing else. I do think this record is a tad on the long side, but that doesn't take away from the quality. Katatonia knows what they're doing, and they continue to do it well. "The Fall Of Hearts" is another strong entry that will absolutely please their eager fans.

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