Shining in the Void: Katatonia returns with new album
Katatonia, Sweden’s masters of melancholic metal return with their latest album, “Sky Void of Stars.” Never known as a stagnant band, Katatonia has evolved greatly over their 30 year history. From their early death metal beginnings, through their doom metal era and into atmospheric progressivism, the band has never been afraid of change. The lead single for the new album (“Atrium”), teased a stylistic shift into a poppier direction, but is that actually the case? Let’s give the album a run through.
The album kicks off with the second released single, “Austerity”. The song comes out of the gate at a driving pace, which becomes a recurring theme throughout the album. Interestingly, the atmospherics are quite heavy on this track, as are the presence of some heavy synth leads. The sludgy riff heavy “Colossal Shade” follows up with lyrics speaking of a corrupting influence. “Opaline” leads off with a very heavy synth lead, and a very slickly pop-style drum groove, complete with what sounds like 80s style drum machine sounds mixed in before returning to a more standard Katatonia-esque rocker. “Birds” is yet another fast paced banger.
“Impermanence” is the most moving and powerful song on the entire album, a wonderfully energetic ballad featuring an exquisitely done duet with fellow Swede Joel Ekelöf (of Soen). “Atrium”, the lead single, effortlessly moves through it’s groovy beat while delivering perhaps one of the biggest ear worm choruses I’ve heard in a long time. “No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall” bounces between moody atmospherics before slamming the listener with a a quite bitter and brutal midsection that is a surprising gut punch before the album closes out with the heavy and moody “Absconder” (listed as a bonus track), which has the closest feel to tracks on previous albums (such as “Dead End Kings” or “Great Cold Distance”).
There is a lot to unpack on this album, especially as one would when comparing it to previous efforts of a very established band. On a whole, it feels more fast and upbeat (as much as Katatonia can be, I suppose) compared to previous efforts. I mentioned in the intro to this review about a “poppier” direction for the band, and after several listens to the album, I think this isn’t really the case. Yes, this album is very synth heavy (more on that in a second), and there are a few big “In the Air Tonight” – style drum breaks, but this definitely isn’t a band going Phil Collins – style pop. What this album feels to me is a collection of songs that has a lot more groove to it than what I’ve been used to from the past several albums. It’s an odd thing to reflect on while listening, but it definitely gives a different vibe. And certainly, this feels to be the “fastest” Katatonia album in a while.
As usual, the composition and musicianship on this album is terrific. Anders’ riffs are fantastic as always, and are a unique core anchor to the whole sound of the band. As many synths and atmospheric elements as there are on this album, and the prominence they hold, the guitars bring everything back and ground you to the Katatonia that we’re all familiar with. Jonas Renkse’s lyrics are still typically beautifully esoteric, although several songs on this album felt far more direct, and far more deeply open and (possibly) biographical than in previous albums. Lyrics aside, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Jonas sing as intensely (and as well) as I have on this album. Niklas Sandin’s bass is top notch throughout the album, particularly on “Opaline”.
While Katatonia has always been an atmospheric band, the synth and atmospheric textures certainly feel to have been elevated to a much higher degree than on previous albums. The extra ambiance certainly elevates nearly every track with a lushness that does nothing but reinforce the core elements of the band, that of Jonas’s plaintive vocals and lyrics, and the fantastic guitar riffs. And certainly, this feels to be one of the best produced Katatonia albums I’ve heard, which given my love of “Fall of Hearts” is saying something. This album sounds absolutely fantastic. The review copy I listened to was stereo, but I can only imagine what this album sounds like in surround (available only in the limited edition wood box set, which sadly appears to be sold out already). I do hope that, at some point, the Atmos mix sees a separate release so that people who missed out on the box set will still be able to listen to it.
While there are some poppier elements to some of the tracks on this album, Katatonia succeeds in doing what many artists tend to misfire at: Incorporating and expanding less familiar elements while still thoroughly maintaining the core essence of what they are. And certainly, this album expands on their already outstanding sonic palette. While the sky may be void of stars in the world of Jonas Renkse, this is an album that shines very brightly.
Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: January 20th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Metal
- Jonas Renkse / Vocals
- Anders Nystrom / Guitars
- Niklas Sandin / Bass
- Daniel Moilanen / Drums
- Roger Ojersson / Guitars
“Sky Void of Stars” Track-listing:
- Colossal Shade
- Drab Moon
- Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall
- Absconder (Bonus Track)
Order “Sky Void of Stars” HERE.
'Sky Void of Stars' is a lush, beautiful album by one of the most atmospheric bands out there. Aggressive, yet magnificent, Katatonia will reward listeners who devote the energy to absorb the layered nuances of these 11 songs