The Unknown Guest: Jonas Renkse
Let’s take a look at some of the best collaborations by Swedish gloom-master, Jonas Renkse.
Jonas Petter Renkse’s voice is the embodiment of the everlasting melancholic attitude of the Scandinavian people. It is fragile, soothing, with a deep dark lyrical baritone tone that engulfs the listener with the frozen majesty of the northern lights. In his native Sweden, Jonas paired with his best friend Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström to create Katatonia, a monument of bleak music with 10 full-length albums that are faithful testament of the autumnal spirit.
He was also nicknamed as Lord Seth in the first two Katatonia records, in which he growled and sang his ass off until his voice was on the verge of oblivion; but that suddenly changed in 1998, when the young duo stripped down their rock influences and poured that black tar into their band’s vision, becoming what the later records became: a sensitive mix of sentiments and a expressionist splash of metal-meets-melodies approach. Katatonia’s songs made Jonas find his niche; the vulnerability of the toned-down, ambient and brooding compositions they have made since 1991 helped him to explore very diverse tricks and treats in his vocal delivery.
To summarize his work, Renkse employs his characteristic middle to low tone for a dense narrative lyrical style and sometimes he can use a monochrome attack that ends embellished by his almost whispered vibrato. With his limited vocal range, he is very capable to lead the melodies paired with the complex and layered wall of sound that the band provides behind. He is one of those rare cases in which the sincerity of his voice sets immediately the mood to the listener for nostalgias, memories and melancholies to come.
In his career, after stumbling with his main band and his own capabilities, he founded October Tide in 1994, a melodic death/doom metal project, with the guitarist Fredrik “North” Norrman. He left in 1999 to commit exclusively to Katatonia. Also, at a boozey party with their friends, Renkse and Nyström initiated the death metal homicidal combo Bloodbath that many of you had enjoyed with those rotten compositions.
Due to his expressive and mellow tone, Jonas was called by some projects to make a couple of guest appearances:
Swallow the Sun wrote a song for Hope that cried for the Jonas Renkse voice. The piece, titled “The Justice of Suffering”, punishes with a dirge slow doom tempo and deep growl vocals that are cut in half by a implosive chorus with a soft and layered lyrical lines sung by Renkse, along a bridge that move a little the composition. The tiny reverb effect enhances the contrasting nature of the song.
Progressive composer Arjen Lucassen is known for two things: his conceptual albums and his ability to squish the best of the musicianship of his guests. In 2007, the Ayreon’s double album 01011001 (which means Y in binary language) saw the light of day with a plethora of great metal stars. In this story, Jonas Renkse is one of the Forever aliens that fight against the tide of time to save the human race of the same mistakes they made eons ago. The apparitions of Jonas in four songs of the record are shrouded with mysterious keyboards lines that reflect the realistic, and almost pessimistic, thinking of his character. Arjen gave him permission to write his own vocal lines.
In 2009, the German post-rock quintet, Long Distance Calling, invited Jonas to participate in their upcoming record on a different type of collaboration of their habitual work. The band use of long instrumental pieces got helped by his soothing guest spot, which complimented in a good manner the tingling orbital guitar riffs and the calm bass lines of the song “The Nearing Grave”. It is such a good song that is launched into an abyss of emotions in the final minutes with mastery.
Since the early days of the corpse paint goofiness of Katatonia, I think Jonas did not approached that close to the black metal genre until this guest appearance in 2009, aided by Pantheon I. “Ascending” is a contrasting song that uses a higher register of Renkse’s voice buried into the harsh rocks of the blast beats and the icy tremolos to induce a false sensation of calmness. The melodies are carried away with an almost poem recite vocal style.
The mysterious sludge and drone inspired metal, Switchblade, made use of Jonas musicianship for their 2012 record, a 36-minutes display of sonic hypnosis. This collaboration marked the return of Jonas to make harsh vocals since the early Katatonia days.
Multi-instrumentalist Bruce Soord, from the rock band The Pineapple Thief, envision an album with Jonas’ voice in mind to sing the songs, and they found the right gaps in their schedules to quickly record them. The result is an introspective rock album full of the acoustic vs. electronic dichotomy. It is a gorgeous effort that explores a different side of his work.
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