CONCERT REVIEW: Swedish Lords of Melancholic Metal KATATONIA Bring Haunting Visual Performance to Denver (November 22nd, 2022)

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I saw Katatonia in Denver last Tuesday night. Well, sort of…

It might be more accurate to say I caught brief glimpses of them, even though I was present for their entire set. The reason is because the band have made a very intentional choice in their live presentation to eliminate nearly all front lighting. This is typically a photographer’s nightmare, and it limits how many images one can shoot that really reveal the product or personalities on stage.

It also serves to affect the audience’s experience, because it changes the mood of the musical presentation to something more hidden and ominous. The band’s display becomes a more collective communication, rather than any individualistic expression. I couldn’t tell you much about what the members on stage were wearing, what brand of instruments they were using, or what emotions their faces might have expressed during the show. There was a vast array of red, blue, and green lighting effects on stage, but they always blasted from behind the band members, illuminating the audience but keeping the band’s face veiled, as if intentionally shrouding what was actually there.

This aesthetic plays right into the music of the band, and no doubt was intended to further serve the overall spirit of the Swedish metallers style. A visual survey of Katatonia’s album artwork throughout the catalog projects the same sense of drab abstractness. The music of the band itself puts off a vibe of being cast through a grey lens, being dulled to avoid any sense of vibrancy or feelings of life and hope. They are utterly melancholic, but somehow not boring or overwhelmingly dark. The consistency of their doomy vibe risks too much of their music blending together and merging into a muddle of morbidity. I can certainly only take so much of them at a time before I need a few contrasting rays of light to shine down and lift my listener’s psyche up.

On record, what keeps Katatonia interesting and listenable are two primary elements that stand out—the unique voice of leader Jonas Renkse, and the clean production that allows certain instruments to cut through the mix and retain a jagged edge with punch and chunk. Unfortunately, both were mostly absent in the sound of the show Tuesday night in Denver. Jonas, who mostly kept his features hidden by a curtain of long hair hanging across his face, was low in the mix, making it impossible to hear any actual lyrics being articulated. The drums were brash and tinny, obscuring a lot of clarity that might have been more pronounced from the bass and guitars underneath. It wasn’t unlistenable. But it failed to capture the sound of the band on record, which is something that would make the live show far more enjoyable. I seemed to have cared more about this than most of those in attendance, however, as they cheered and mouthed the words along in what can generally be called a generous and well-chosen set list.

Jonas announced that a new record was coming in January (“Sky Void of Stars”), and they played the new single “Atrium” about two thirds of the way into the set. The song went over well and had an additional level of energy and a slightly brighter tone than most of the rest of the set. Its reception bodes well for the upcoming release. The set-list covered a number of albums from the catalog, the greatest number of songs coming from 2006’s “The Great Cold Distance,” and 2020’s “City Burials,” which was released a few years back, but failed to get a proper promotional tour due to the world health crisis.

It’s a shame Jonas‘s voice was not mixed properly because the unique timbre of his voice is a signature aspect of the band. Tracks like “My Twin,” “Soil’s Song,” and “Heart Set to Divide” were met with warm applause and appreciation. The modestly sized venue was fairly full for a Tuesday night show that Jonas apologized about, commenting that Saturday shows allow for a lot more drinking. He said that they saw some snow coming into Denver, but it paled in comparison to Sweden. “We fucking love winter,” he proclaimed.

And most of those in attendance seemed to love Katatonia, though they offered a more somber sense of appreciation than celebratory excitement. In fairness, that seemed entirely appropriate given the nature of the art on display. It was a dark show, with a dark mood, and I walked out after into the dark night, wishing for a little better sound than what I’d just heard, and anticipating a little more levity of tunes for my car ride home. Like the others, however, I was glad to have gone.

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1 Comment

  1. That’s a shame about the sound. They were crystal clear at The Crocodile in Seattle.
    My only knock is that Katatonia is a bad that is best ingested in a seat, rather than standing the whole show.

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