Overall Score: 6/10 Technical Proficiency : 7/10 Performances : 5/10 Value: 6/10 Pros: A comprehensive package for die hard fans to sink their teeth into with some great unheard material. Cons: The good is mostly overshadowed by the second half's below average vocal performances.
Three decades, that’s how long Swedish prog icons Katatonia have been putting pick to string. Whether this seems possible or not, their repertoire of success speaks for itself and the band has rarely dipped from the upper echelons of the progressive scene. This quite rightly calls for celebration. Mnemosynean is as much of a self ‘pat on the back’ as it is a love letter to a dedicated (and certainly aged) fanbase; an encyclopedic journey from the band’s departure from their death-doom roots in 94’ to the familiar sounds of the modern era. The question remains, however, does Mnemosynean truly reflect the band’s finest hours? Or is it merely a lukewarm celebration worthy of only tepid applause?
Regrettably, the answer is a bit of both. Mnemosynean is undeniably a worthwhile dedication to the most loyal Katatonia followers – with two hours encompassing unheard tracks, limited edition bonuses, covers and a number of reimagined remixes – but the old adage of quantity over quality brings the rain on this rather drawn-out parade.
Split helpfully into two halves (one for each disc), Mnemosynean is a conflicted record. The first half, the one deserving of such a celebration, dives into the band’s more contemporary hidden gems – including unheard numbers and numerous EP and special edition releases – and are a genuine pleasure to lose yourself to.
Wide Awake In Quietus and Night Comes Down, both tracks yet to see the light of release – flow rich in Katatonia’s knack for great storytelling, replete with emotional strain and surrounded by their signature sorrow of crooning guitars and infectious hooks. Both tracks, amongst Mnemosynean’s other buried treasures, feel well at home between the band’s grand archives and certainly evokes curiosity to the possibility of yet more secrets. Further down the road, too, we find more examples of the band’s lost – but by no means forgotten – works. Plucked from Katatonia’s multiple special releases and EPs, namely The Great Cold Distance, Night Is The New Day and My Twin EP, this handful of B-sides are by no means some of the band’s greatest material (although Unfurl is a fantastic slow burner for those with patience) but it certainly serves as an enjoyable hour; especially for the most loyal of fans.
Truth be told, this first half could be considered a more appropriate, albeit less comprehensive, celebration of a band of such stature. The new material provokes intrigue and the collated B-sides round off the disc nicely with a sense of nostalgia without overstaying its welcome. The entire concept behind Mnemosynean relates to the Greek goddess of memory and, unfortunately, the majority of the project’s latter half simply isn’t worth the extra runtime.
The most glaring issue comes from a mire of unsavoury vocal performances that robs the tracks’ stellar instrumental presence of their deserved value. With performance’s dating back to Katatonia’s late 90’s/early noughties era, disc 2 only serves as a striking reminder of how far vocalist Jonas Renkse has progressed as the band’s frontman. March 4, Oh How I Enjoy The Light, Help Me Disappear, Fractured, No Devotion – each track sees Renkse painfully moan his way through the runtime or be so far buried beneath the mix that his presence is almost made redundant. This, then, overshadows any other artistic credit that could be drawn from these numbers with Wait Outside, and its insidious guitar tones, and the cinematic remix tracks that back up the album’s final moments the only redeeming factor. For a band so highly regarded within their stomping grounds, this simply isn’t what they deserve as a celebration for three decades of diligence. Mnemosynean may well be founded on memory but these tracks are certainly best left forgotten.
Ultimately this is a set of rarities that avid followers of the band’s hefty career would be foolish to miss out on – whether or not it goes further than that is up for debate. While the record’s first half, plus some spotty moments on the second, uphold their legacy to the heights they command, there are simply too many rough performances to truly call Mnemosynean worthy of its task. It’s not to seem ungrateful but after thirty years you would have simply expected a little more; a cake perhaps? Balloons? Either way, whichever way you may sway we can all rejoice in the celebration of this pretty fantastic band.
Katatonia’s rarities collection, Mnemosynean, is out now on Peaceville Records.