Overall Score: 8.5/10 Vocals: 9/10 Memorable Tracks: 8/10 Variety: 9/10 Pros: A wonderful band on top form | Experimenting that pays off while staying true to their core sound Cons: Very little
Katatonia, much like their Scandinavian contemporaries Opeth, essentially have two acts to their career. The original musical direction of the band, very much in the doom / gothic metal mould, and their more recent offerings, which over the second half of their existence has shown them to be one of the world’s finest exponents of melancholic prog rock / ambient metal.
After an extended break at the end of the touring cycle for their last album, the very successful The Fall Of Hearts, Katatonia have returned, with their new album City Burials set to release almost four years after The Fall Of Hearts. It would seem the break has done them good. Katatonia’s primary creative axis of Jonas Renkse and Anders Nystrom has once again proved tremendously successful, further augmented by the new energy brought to the band of newest member, guitarist Roger Öjersson. From the opening Heart Set To Divide through to closer Untrodden, City Burials is definitely an album that wants to pull the listener in and immerse them fully. The atmospheric qualities throughout will hold the attention of all except those with the shortest attention spans, and the way the listener can lose themselves in the album will mean it feels like the album has gone by in no time at all. The repeat button will likely be the friend of many.
Heart Set To Divide is a perfect Katatonia album opener; It’s brooding with a lamenting air to it, and as with many of the best Katatonia tracks, there are bursts of some seriously heavy riffs among the ambiance. Second track Behind The Blood is another highly enjoyable song, upbeat (at least by Katatonia standards) and has some wonderful, almost Dream Theater-esque guitar solo work.
City Burial’s first single Lacquer has a minimalist intro and is quite minimalist on instrumentation, allowing Jonas’s vocals to take centre stage, and he duly responds with one of his finest performances on any Katatonia track in memory for many years. Another upbeat track, The Winter Of Our Passing, has an almost 80’s synth quality to it in places, but it manages to stay just on the right side of jumping over that particular boundary (apologies to all the Pet Shop Boys fans out there). Katatonia don’t get their audiences dancing per say, but this one, if played live, might get a bit of a bounce or an awkward shuffle. It’s an interesting variation to the general approach of the album, and an experiment that works pretty well.
Moving through City Burials, Vanishers returns to the slower, melancholic approach with the atmospherics ramped up to maximum, aided by the haunting voice of guest vocalist Anni Bernhard. City Glaciers brings back the riffs but loses none of the encapsulating nature of the previous track, providing another moment where the music demands to take the listener and envelope them in all its otherworldly qualities. In spite of the quality of all that comes before it, the standout track of the album is Flicker. A track that sums up all of what is good about Katatonia in a four minute and fourty four second snapshot, it brings memories of other tracks in the bands’ top tier arsenal like July and Forsaker flooding to mind.
The closing section of the album of Neon Epitaph and Untrodden complete the absorbing journey this album lays out for the listener in very satisfying fashion. Neon Epitaph again walks the line between atmospheric and heavy with deft skill, while Untrodden very much completes the album in a way that will leave almost every listener wanting more.
More than just a return to form, Katatonia have made one of the best albums of their career with City Burials. Some may even consider it their finest work, and many would find it very difficult to disagree.
The new Katatonia album, City Burials, is released on the 24th of April 2020 on Peaceville Records. Pre-order the album in a variety of ways in physical and digital format now.