An extensive collection of rarities and B-sides marking 30 years of the band, Katatonia are set to release Mnemosynean on 1st October 2021 through Peaceville Records. The term relates to the goddess of memory in Greek mythology (and derives from the same source as the word mnemonic) so it’s entirely apt! In fact tomb inscriptions dating back to 400 BCE say that the dead could keep their memories intact by avoiding drinking from the Lethe, and drink instead from the stream flowing from the lake of Mnemosyne, the afore-mentioned goddess.
This new release marks 30 years since the formation of one of the most enigmatic & aurally captivating bands to grace the dark rock/prog genre. It includes tracks from the band’s numerous EPs, unheard album songs, limited special edition bonuses, cover songs, as well as a series of collaborative remixes. The album spans the band’s journey, from their goth-soaked experimental beginnings of 1994, through to tracks recorded during the sessions for the stellar 2016 opus The Fall of Hearts.
In simple terms, Katatonia are a Swedish metal band formed in Stockholm in 1991 by (mainly vocalist) Jonas Renkse and (mainly guitarist) Anders Nyström. The band started as a studio-only project for the duo, as an outlet for the band’s love of death metal. Increasing popularity led them to add more band members for live performances, though outside of the band’s founders, the lineup was a constantly changing, revolving door of musicians throughout the 1990s, notably including Mikael Åkerfeldt of the band Opeth for a period. After two death/doom albums, Dance of December Souls (1993) and Brave Murder Day (1996), problems with Renkse’s vocal cords coupled with new musical influences led the band away from the screamed vocals of death metal to a more traditional, melodic form of heavy metal music.
The band released two more albums, Discouraged Ones (1998) and Tonight’s Decision (1999), before settling into a stable quintet lineup for all of the 2000s. The band released four more albums with said lineup: Last Fair Deal Gone Down (2001), Viva Emptiness (2003), The Great Cold Distance (2006), and Night Is the New Day (2009), with the band slowly moving away from their metal sound while adding more progressive rock sounds to their work over time. While lineup changes started up again into the 2010s, Renkse and Nyström persisted, and the band continued on to release their ninth and tenth studio albums, Dead End Kings (2012) and The Fall of Hearts (2016). After touring in support of the album through 2017, the band entered a hiatus at the beginning of 2018. The band returned from their hiatus in February 2019, with their eleventh studio album, City Burials, released in April 2020.
So, in an attempt to sum the band up, it might be said that the band started out as deathly doom-merchants before adopting a more metallic, sleek, dark & depressive rock style, retaining some of the distinguishing traits from their early repertoire, such as the melancholy-laced & instantly identifiable melodic guitar leads and clean albeit poignant mood compositions. Nystrom claimed to summarize their changes when in 2006 he said they were “a metal band, but without boundaries and limitations to their sound, just playing dark and heavy music whilst hoping to avoid the ‘goth-metal’ tag”.
I think they’ve moved on a bit since then?
With a somewhat unforeseen global event transpiring and touring being made impossible, the band still wanted to perform for their fans, so conducted a more intimate “lockdown” show which was streamed live from Studio Grondahl. This show was released as the live album Dead Air in late 2020 and gave fans a full-length set containing 20 tracks from the band’s extensive and illustrious repertoire to date.
And so to the music, a veritable cornucopia of delight for dark rock and prog-rock fans! I’ve grouped the various tracks by a brief description of where and when it originates from, which hopefully is helpful! After that I’ve simply taken the tracks as I find them, as a relative newcomer to the altar!
The (twin CD) track listing is as follows – unusually, CD1 is entirely composed of bonus tracks off albums, but in reverse chronological order, whereas CD2 mixes more bonus tracks and b-sides in equal measure, in “proper” chronological order. With me so far!?
1. Vakaren [04:54] – bonus track from 2016’s album Fall of Hearts
2. Sistere [04:11] – bonus track from Fall of Hearts
3. Wide Awake In Quietus [04:59] – bonus track from Fall of Hearts
4. Night Comes Down [04:14] – bonus track from Fall of Hearts
5. Second [03:32] – bonus track from the 2012 album Dead End Kings
6. The Act Of Darkening [05:52] – bonus track from Dead End Kings
7. Ashen [04:06] – bonus track from 2009’s Night Is the New Day
8. Sold Heart [04:32] – bonus track from Night Is the New Day
9. Displaced [05:14] – bonus track from 2006’s The Great Cold Distance
10. Dissolving Bonds [03:41] – bonus track from The Great Cold Distance
11. Unfurl[04:48] – bonus track from The Great Cold Distance
12. Code Against The Code [03:28] – bonus track from The Great Cold Distance
1. Wait Outside [03:38] – bonus track from the 2003 album Viva Emptiness
2. Sulfur[06:22] – b-side to the Teargas single from 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down
3. March 4 [03:51] – b-side to the Teargas single from Last Fair Deal Gone Down
4. O How I Enjoy The Light [02:44] – bonus track from Last Fair Deal Gone Down
5. Help Me Disappear [05:13] – bonus track from Last Fair Deal Gone Down
6. Fractured [05:52] – bonus track from 1999’s Tonight’s Decision
7. No Devotion [04:48] – bonus track from Tonight’s Decision
8. Quiet World [04:39] – track taken from limited edition 1998 EP ‘Saw You Drown’
9. Scarlet Heavens [10:27] – track taken from limited edition 1998 EP ‘Saw You Drown’
10. In The White (Urban Dub) [05:25] – b-side from Deliberation single taken from the 2006 album The Great Cold Distance
11. My Twin (Opium Dub Version)[04:15] – b-side from My Twin single taken from The Great Cold Distance
12. Soil`s Song (Krister Linder 2012 remix)[04:40] – b-side from July single taken from The Great Cold Distance
13. Day And Then The Shade (Frank Default remix) [05:40] – b-side from Day And Then The Shade single taken from Night is the New Day
14. Idle Blood (Linje 14) [03:23] – b-side from The Longest Year single taken from 2009’s Night is the New Day
15. Hypnone (Frank Default Hypnocadence mix)[04:46] -b-side from Buildings single taken from 2012’s Dead End Kings
Oddly, the first group of tracks stem from the 2016 Fall of Hearts sessions, featuring generally gentle, pastoral prog. It’s nice enough, but I can imagine some fans being a bit frustrated at first hearing that the music isn’t more meaty. I really like these, especially Wide Awake In Quietus, and the great riff in Night Comes Down, this is actually a cover of an old Judas Priest song, but they more than do it justice!
Then comes a pair of tracks from Dead End Kings, largely ploughing the same melodic prog furrow. I love these two, effortlessly classy arrangements, some really tasty guitar work dipping in and out while the vocals are, dare I say, soothing! Oddly these two in particular remind me strongly of Del Amitri’s Justin Currie – and that’s high praise from me, the cadence and warmth in Jonas’ voice is outstanding!
Ashen lulls the listener into thinking we’re getting (backwards) into more meaty territory, which it does, although Sold Heart winds the volume down again. But I tell you what, Anders Nystrom’s sparse, clean guitar lines are top notch!
Then we have a quartet of tracks from 2006’s The Great Cold Distance, quite a lot heavier but still extremely melodic, very reminiscent of Porcupine Tree, The Pineapple Thief and late-period Opeth. Again what hits my buttons is the cleanliness (for want of a better word) of the arrangements – Stephen Wilson would be proud! Unfurl is simply masterful for this…
Here endeth the first lesson!
CD2 kicks off with a single solitary number that was originally destined to be on Viva Emptiness, it’s okay but seems slightly derivative compared to what I’ve heard so far. It’s followed by another quartet, this time off 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down. At six and a half minutes, Sulfur is a mini-epic, all manner of syncopation evident in the several, very differently paced sections of this tasty number. March 4 sounds like what it says on the tin, ie a b-side, its quite formulaic metal-prog that doesn’t do it for me. O How I Enjoy The Light, by contrast, shows what consummate song-writers these two are – the lyrics and vocals on the one part, plus the backing but insistent guitar sound from Anders come so easily to the dynamic duo. Its all about light and shade, as witnessed in Help Me Disappear – great track!
Fractured, and No Devotion, both come from the era of Tonight’s Decision, harking from 1999. Again this is sort of mainstream prog-metal, but it sounds fresh, crisp, melodic…and INTERESTING!
Next up are two tracks from the limited edition 1998 EP Saw You Drown, a return to slow pastoral prog in Quiet World, then the whopping Scarlet Heavens -all ten and a half minutes of this. To be honest, I really don’t know what to make of this, it’s almost 80’s style Art-rock morphing into goth rock via New Romantic before winding up as what I Would describe as a Techno-Prog exercise!!!
The Great Cold Distance returns with three more offerings, this time the b-sides from the three singles. Again heavily reminding me of Porcupine Tree / TPT, which I’m certainly not going to complain about! Jonas’ voice carries the lovely melodies so well. The first two are both dub versions, hypnotically carrying the listener (me!)into a happy trance. Soil’s Song is something different, an earthy pulsating electro-beat driving large parts of this. Not sure about this one…
Finally, we have a trio of b-sides of singles taken from 2009’s Night Is The New Day, electronics and synths playing a key (heh!) role here. Some of this works better than others, and I guess all Katatonia fans will already have their own opinions on this album as a whole – what you cant knock is the inventiveness and musical variety of this duo. Of the three, fittingly it is the last track that resonates most with me, a real sense of atmosphere even if a little plodding.
And there we have it! – a real mix of material from this extremely talented band. I appreciate that fans of their early incarnations have probably struggled with some of the directions the duo have subsequently taken, but it’s all quality stuff, and – dammit – is making me want to add to my collection of their albums. As “Out-takes/ Compilations” albums go, this is a clever, satisfying collection, with very little filler to my mind. Jonas’ and Anders’ vision might be a trifle bleak, but it’s infused with an elegant melodic beauty that I find very appealing!
The Mnemosynean packaging includes a new band biography courtesy of music journalist Eleanor Goodman, as well as full lyrics plus backgrounds to the track origins described by founding members Anders Nyström and Jonas Renkse, along with other close Katatonia collaborators. The artwork for this release has been created by long-running Katatonia visual artist Travis Smith.
The collection will be released through Peaceville on 1st October, in a variety of digital and hard copy formats. Enjoy!