Katatonia – City Burials (Album Review)

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Sometimes, being too lucky can be a curse.  I’ve only been writing reviews for publication for a short time, but I’ve already had the chance to cover some of my all-time favorite bands. Who gets to cover 30-year legends like My Dying Bride for their first review?  Lucky motherfuckers, that’s who.  But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Katatonia is also one of my all-time favorite bands, but reviewing this album has been like pulling teeth.  There’s so much to unpack that I struggle to keep it condensed and readable. “City Burials” is so personal, so raw, so honest that I can’t separate my emotional reaction from the music long enough to write an objective critique. Please forgive any missteps.

Katatonia is famous for being one of the original death/doom bands, but they long ago left most of the death metal aspects behind to build their own unique brand of melodic and mournful metal. Somewhere around 2009’s “Night is the New Day” or 2012’s “Dead End Kings”, (let’s not debate exactly when) another metamorphosis began, as the band further explored the quietest and calmest moments in their sound. “City Burials” is the next step in that metamorphosis, the next evolution of the band. This album is as far from “The Great Cold Distance” as that album is from “Dance of December Souls.”  The sheer breadth of Katatonia’s growth over their career is staggering.

That’s not to say that all traces of the guard have been erased. “Heart Set to Divide” kicks things off with crushing riffs and some double bass that wouldn’t be too out of place on an older album like “Viva Emptiness,” except perhaps the ominous samples adding a night sky atmosphere to the track. “Behind the Blood” follows suit with more heaviness and driving drums, though this time the focus is more on the guitar than the vocals. Speaking of drums, Daniel Moilanen is in excellent shape here, somehow threading perfectly between emotional and technical throughout the album. There are other flickers of that old sound; tracks like “Rein” and “Neon Epitaph” follow the old Katatonia tradition of backing up a sing-along chorus with face-melting riffage to contrast with the haunting, somber verses that focus almost entirely on Jonas Renkse’s mournful murmuring.

“City Burials” Album Artwork

However, the new sound is definitely the focus of “City Burials.” Lead single “Lacquer” is a perfect example of the slightly poppy progressive rock the band has been practicing on recent releases. The song crescendos for over two minutes before crashing like a wave, only to recede so it can take you on its emotional roller coaster once again. On “The Winter of our Passing,” drums and bass join forces to create a groovy backdrop that feels just barely danceable. I honestly never thought I’d use the word danceable to describe Katatonia, but here we are. What a time to be alive. “Flicker” is almost never the same twice, barring the chorus, and even features a couple sweet synth interludes. Going back to “Neon Epitaph,” the opening riff is simultaneously driving and empty at the same time; it conjures images of a destroyed cityscape, no life in sight.

Every song stands on its own, yet, in their diversity, fit together to make “City Burials” more than the sum of its parts.  There are yawning chiasms of depression and quiet moments of peace. Smashing riffs and dreamy soundscapes. Anxiety-laden crescendos and sudden drops. All of this, topped off by Renkse’s trademark tearful musings on personal loss, dying loves, last breaths, and emptiness. This album is the culmination of a 27-year long journey. Everything the band has ever done is here in some form, casting shadows into the future of their sound. Katatonia already hold gold medals in death-doom and doom. “City Burials” is an argument that they are aiming at achieving the same in the prog-rock realm.

Released by: Peaceville Records
Relese Date: April 24th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Jonas Renkse / Vocals
  • Anders Nyström / Guitar
  • Niklas Sandin / Bass
  • Daniel Moilanen / Drums
  • Roger Öjersson / Guitar

“City Burials” tracklisting:

  1. Heart Set To Divide
  2. Behind The Blood
  3. Lacquer
  4. Rein
  5. The Winter Of Our Passing
  6. Vanishers
  7. City Glaciers
  8. Flicker
  9. Lachesis
  10. Neon Epitaph
  11. Untrodden

9.0 Very Good

Katatonia return from a brief hiatus stronger than ever. Depressive progressive rock swirled together with bits of the darkest doom metal around; it all combines to make “City Burials” possibly the pinnacle of their career

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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