The new sound exploration Katatonia started with The Great Cold Distance comes to a full circle with their latest album, Dead End Kings. The former was a study in
heavy-light, emphasizing ground-shaking rhythmic complexity with vaguely Tool-inspired progressions, while the latter finds them delving deeper into seas of atmosphere with minimalistic guitar themes underscoring Jonas Renkse's unique singing characterized by despair and melancholy. Of course, in between these two albums, they released their transition disc, Night is the New Day, which hinted at their current musical philosophy but also retained some of the crunchy fretwork that defined its predecessor.
Dead End Kings is easily the most brooding Katatonia album of the last three. The band's strength once again lies in their subtle chordal movements, atmospheric synth experimentation, and subdued drum and bass interaction. The drumming is nowhere near as complex and pivotal as on previous albums. The complexity has been replaced by simpler yet equally effective drum beats. Anything more technical than this might have rendered these songs redundant and some of the progressions and movements would have been irrelevant. Jonas Renkse is once again the primary source of inspiration: besides handling the lyrics, he is also responsible for the music on pretty much every tune. His presence lends the entire album a unique Katatonia flavour as he continues to conjure images of melancholy and angst. There is no doubt that he penned these songs with the same mindset as on the previous album, which was also a solo album in some aspects.
Alongside new members Per Eriksson on guitars and Niklas Sandin on bass, the album is also graced by Norwegian female vocalist Silje Wergeland of The Gathering fame. You may also be familiar with her from Octavia Sperati if you enjoy keyboard-heavy gothic metal with some doom influences. That said, Wergeland's performance here on the song "The One You Are Looking for is Not Here" sounds absolutely different from her prior work. She exchanges verses Renkse beautifully: no one could have sung those lyrics with more conviction.
Perhaps the only song that sees the band picking up tempo and adding some crunch into the mix is "Buildings," which strangely reminds me of my time in the Baltic countries. I remember listening to this album constantly when I was in St. Petersburg and whenever this song kicked in I felt it was a great reflection of the mood and spirit of this northern city, especially during the White Nights. From now on, I'll probably always associate this track with that beautiful city.
The guitar sound is dreamlike and looms over the arrangements at the most pivotal moments, though there is little space reserved for solos or lead riffs. Rather, guitars provide texture and ambiance, and together with Frank Default's expert sampling methods and David Castillo's stellar mixing job, they take on a powerful effect which creates the unique Katatonia sound.
After obtaining this album, I was unable to listen to anything else for months, and when I did, I found myself returning to it. Dead End Kings is one of the best albums of the year, but then again, I like everything this band has released. I believe with this album Katatonia have fully achieved the sound they had on mind, so I am even more curious as to where they will go with the next disc. Personally I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be a leap into the unknown.
- The Parting
- The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here
- The Racing Heart
- Undo You
- First Prayer
- Dead Letters