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If you compare Katatonia’s recent output to that of two or so decades ago you’d be forgiven if you thought you were hearing two unrelated artists.
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The Swedes cut their teeth on death metal demos, then made death-influenced doom, followed by morosely gothic and gloom-tinged metal, then proggy metal, and then–with the present era–progressive rock. There seems little point therefore in comparing album number 11, City Burials, with older efforts that bear practically no resemblance to the Katatonia of yesteryear.
City Burials then is another progressive rock creation in the vein of the last few albums, the most recent being 2016’s The Fall Of Hearts. Written predominantly by vocalist and co-founder Jonas Renkse, the result is a melodic rock album that feels mellow and sombre, rather than fatalistic. Nonetheless, there are some heavy bits thrown in. Lead track Behind The Blood, for instance, contains an unexpected homage to energetic ’80s metal, something Renkse acknowledged in the accompanying media release.
Lacquer, the other track to enjoy an early release, is a different beast altogether. It’s a slow, dreamy, almost electronica-sounding number that would be perfect in any Scandinavian noir series. So too is Vanishers (minus the electronica) featuring guest vocals from Full Of Keys’ Anni Bernhard.
City Burials essentially a song-orientated, mostly-rock album. Make no mistake, it sounds every bit like Katatonia, even when it goes in non-traditional directions.
The musicianship and sound is hard to fault. However, perhaps a tad too much airtime is given to Renkse’s voice (clean signing, naturally, as Katatonia albums haven’t featured growly vocals for almost 25 years). To be clear, in no way is he a poor singer. On the contrary, he’s superb, so much so that you could imagine yourself being brought to tears if you were to hear his emotion-charged voice in person, without the accompanying instruments.
It’s just that the voice is so prominent throughout this album that some listeners may find it detracts from the rest of the instrumentation. There are some wonderfully interesting and complex instrumentally-driven passages, such as on the twangy Neon Epitaph or the almost country-esque bits of City Glaciers. You get the feeling that something huge and profound is about to happen–but then it mellows out again as the vocals kick in. Given the calibre of all the musicians involved, you may be left wondering: where else they could they have gone with this song?
This last point is most evident in the song durations. There are no 11-minute epics here–the average song duration works out at 4:24, with the longest at 5:30. There just isn’t time for long, instrumental passages and bridges or sweeping build-ups.
That makes City Burials essentially a song-orientated, mostly-rock album. Make no mistake, it sounds every bit like Katatonia, even when it goes in non-traditional directions.
Fans of the last half dozen or so releases will welcome the familiarity while finding enough diversity to take them to interesting new places.
Those still holding out for the doom and gloom days, though, will find their expectations remain unmet.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Behind the Blood, Neon Epitaph, City Glaciers
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