Review: Katatonia – City Burials
Under the blinding lights of these ruined cities, we still survive. Come and join us in the celebration of the City Burials, Katatonia‘s newest record.
There is some sort of hypnotic feeling poured into the late period of Katatonia’s discography. Be it the introspective nature of their sound mix or the eclectic background of their influences as musicians, each record they’ve released so far has been a building block for their enduring legacy.
As a matter of fact, this Swedish dark and melodic collective has been silently composing and releasing music during the last few years that caters to both the palates of cerebral progressive fans and moody listeners. In all, it is safe to claim there are few bands on this side of the metal trench that embody such elegance in their style without abandoning the visceral on their pursuit of raw emotions.
“Time for absolution
How the dead birds sing
They’re right atop my roof” – Excerpt from “Neon Epitaph”
This is exactly where this band’s strength dwells. It’s always a back and forth pull each release in trying to balance how their metal sound resonates with their new ambitions. But there is one thing that is always sure for us as listeners: we may understand what we are going to expect with new music from them, but we are still clueless on how the road will unfold on our listening.
City Burials marks the 11th milestone in their long career. The Peaceville sound is rotten, buried six feet under, and their post-punk injected transition period mutated as well. So, what surprises will we get in this special release?
Behind the heart of the city lights in the Katatonia world
“Heart Set to Divide” avoids for a few seconds the traditional Katatonia album opener of delivering a stone-cold heavy hit. Above the layers of electronica, the perennial voice of Jonas Renkse stands tall, harmonized beautifully by his long-time partner-in-crime Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström, modulating phrases through soft cadences and reverberated choruses. A minute later, the progressive edge cuts the ambiance with a heavy guitar riff and the syncopated rhythmic pulse of drum and bass. Pretty much a killer cut, this track never stops moving its innards, revealing lapses of brilliance in both songwriting and technical prowess.
In the vein of their last 4 records, the abrasive nature of their old extreme metal roots is diluted with melodies and a surgical perspective in the vocal arrangements. Following this framework, this opener sets the vibes of the overall track listing, pushing us to float on a deep starry night.
Roger Öjersson, Daniel Moilanen and Niklas Sandin, the newcomers, don’t give us the time to reflect on how our heads are now messed up by the harsh lullaby nature of this opening and split our skulls in two with “Behind the Blood”, an unexpected turn into the now-traditional Katatonia ethos. A vibrating guitar solo? A thundering drum beat? A groovy break? We are used to being drowned in melancholy with this band’s music, but not like this!
Once the dust is settled, the beast is unleashed: Jonas Renkse goes primal and croons up-high with sensual attitude, paying respects to the old-school heavy metal sound and pushing his vocal range to limits beyond.
We have two takes and my predictions are faring: Jonas and Anders are artisans who leveled up their songwriting and arrangements skills so high that they are now in the top of their game. There is no band in this particular style that sounds like them and sensing how much fun and bite they injected into this track, my deal with City Burials is sealed. My head spins with this range of emotions, I must confess it’s love at first sight.
“Lacquer” comes to compliment this beginning: the progressive and the straight-forward merges into this Ulver-esque beautiful cinematic piece in which Jonas directs the plays with his punctuated rhythmic phrasing, probably inspired by his recent partnership with the songwriter Bruce Soord. In general, this is a very interesting track in which the metal takes a back seat to open the capabilities of his vocals.
“The road to the grave is straight as an arrow
I’m just staying around to sing your song, baby” – Excerpt from “Lacquer”
By the end of this third track, we can see the broad picture through the little details. The band is inspired enough to move within these three main directions without losing focus on the flow of the whole album. The new blood, the sudden hiatus after The Fall of Hearts and the search for inspiration gave them enough vitality to make City Burials a relevant listing to this year’s calendar releasees in metal music.
Even though we deciphered the road to follow, it does not mean we are going to get less surprised. Öjersson and Moilanen’s influence in the sound does not stop at the second track; in “Reins” we confront a blend of brutal technical proficiency and a turn of events in the form of a post-rock intermission. “The Winter of Our Passing” welcomes once more the heavy electronic textures as a way to provoke new sensations above the dark progressive metal grooves (nice touches in the arrangement of the bridges, very reminiscent of the Dead End Kings and Night is the New Day times).
This block ends with “Vanishers”, another delicate and intimate act dominated by the harmony between Renkse and the vocalist Anni Bernhard. The collaboration marks one of the most heartfelt moments in the whole of Katatonia’s story, leaving the core of their artistry exploded in emotions and vulnerability.
The track listing order of City Burials leaves us with a new collection of songs that doesn’t deviate from the persistent idea of delivering great songs in each respective style. While some listeners would prefer an even wilder exploration of their songwriting process, I felt this more old-school approach to the album organization invites more to feel each song as a potential moment to complement each heartbeat of the stories and musical motifs.
At this stage, City Burials already shapes up as a potential runner for best Katatonia album, but they have a couple further tricks up their sleeves.
Closing the break provided by “Flicker” and “Lachesis”, we confront the closing of this magnificent road trip in the form of “Neon Epitaph”, probably my favorite cut of the whole record thanks to that adventurous writing of the vocals on the verses, with Jonas Renkse giving everything he has to provide the necessary character to elevate the already defiant nature of the composition.
Finally, we end with “Untrodden”, a solemn closer that perfectly resumes all the intricacies and style of this era of Katatonia, which includes the best and most inspired guitar solo I heard this year so far.
Living the absolute inside the decayed ruins
You can assign certain adjectives to their core sound: gloomy, melancholic, evocative, mournful, depressive… The thing, for me as a listener, is that I cannot use that spectrum of words to define what Katatonia means.
Sure, there is the streamline of sad lyrics perfect to picture yourself as an angst-driven individual on a cold snowy night. But to summarize all the emotions and catharsis deep within their current style is to disservice the varied color palette of their songwriting and lyrical content.
“To get higher
I had to go so low” – Excerpt from “The Winter of Our Passing”
I feel like home in Katatonia’s music. And I truly love that they created City Burials as an honest version of what they desire to express. In these particular times, feeling accompanied is a treasure and the outcasts may feel comfort in this incredible record. Here’s hoping you feel at home too!
Thanks, Katatonia for this certified 4.5/5 flaming toilets album!
Katatonia’s City Burials is out now. Be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, remember to share and comment on this review if you dug it, I did it with plenty of love for the band, this record and, for you, of course!