Overall Score: 8/10 Atmospherics: 9/10 Stand Out Tracks: 8/10 Replay Value: 8/10 Pros: A wonderful full album listen - best appreciated from start to finish | A band with true identity but not playing it safe Cons: Quality drops a little towards the end (but from a very high level)
The journey Katatonia have undertaken from Gothic doom metal purveyors to prog rock / prog metal maestros started the best part of two decades ago. Their more progressive era is now well established, and their latest offering, Sky Void Of Stars, is very much in keeping with the approach of the last couple of albums (City Burials and The Fall Of Hearts).
This isn’t to say the band have stood still; far from it. Sky Void Of Stars finds Katatonia at their atmospheric best, and at times the most experimental they’ve been since they begun to alter their sound on albums like The Great Cold Distance.
Album opener Austerity is just a great modern era Katatonia track, with frontman Jonas Renkse in fine vocal form, soaring riffs and some clever instrumentation. The follow up Colossal Shade is equally engaging, but Opaline is where there’s the first glimpse into trying something fully different. The intro, with its keys and electronic drum beat feels like it could be the beginning of a major rap song, not a modern prog anthem. Things return to more familiar territory for the rest of the song, but there’s still a greater presence of keys than usual in a Katatonia track and it’s definitely on the more upbeat end of their scale.
Tonally this approach continues with Birds, one of the very successful singles from Sky Void Of Stars. Walking the line between melancholic and sounding almost happy is an art form Katatonia have increasingly become masters of on the last couple of albums and Birds is a fine example of this. Drab Moon, as one might possibly expect from the title, amps up the melancholy and atmospherics; why not, when it is something Katatonia do so very well? Author, which features the lyrics which created the name of the album, Sky Void Of Stars, is another track where it’s very possible for the listener to just get lost in the sound of the track, being very immersive in the best possible way.
The experiments continue as the album sweeps into the second half. Impermanence has a highly impressive guitar solo – something Katatonia are not known particularly for, but on this evidence could consider doing a bit more of. There’s a slight drop off on some of the final tracks like Atrium and the closing No Beacon To Illuminate Our Fall, but not enough to detract from what is a high quality album throughout.
Like their Scandinavian contemporaries Opeth, Katatonia are consistently operating at the top of the prog metal pyramid. Sky Void Of Stars is a release that is absolutely going to help keep them there. One of the years’ first great metal releases.
Sky Void Of Stars is out now on Napalm Records.