Meritorious masters of melancholic metal Katatonia continue their legacy of rearranging the order of the heavy music universe, proudly presenting their hauntingly beautiful next studio album, Sky Void of Stars, out January 20, 2023 via Napalm Records.
Founded in 1991, Katatonia have continually embraced the dark and the light alike and, living through genre evolutions beyond compare, ripened their own particular form of expression. From doom and death metal to soul-gripping post rock, they’ve explored endless spheres of the genre, accumulating only the very best aspects. With their previous album, City Burials (2020), ranking #6 on the German album charts, the outfit proved their gravitational force on the scene as an everlasting cycle.
After signing with Napalm Records, the collective entity centred around founding members Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström is again ready to showcase its brilliance and illuminate the void in our world with Sky Void of Stars.
Katatonia themselves comment on the new album as follows: “Our 12th album, Sky Void of Stars is a dynamic journey through vibrant darkness. Born out of yearning for what was lost and not found, the very peripheries of the unreachable, but composed and condensed into human form and presented as sounds and words true to the band’s signum. No stars here, just violent rain.”
And so to the music: Sky Void of Stars provides eleven new tracks, all written and composed by vocalist Jonas Renske, all swathed in Katatonia’s trademark, never stagnant, atmospheric sound. The album opens with Austerity, a strikingly dominant number led by the always captivating vocals of Jonas Renske and Daniel Moilanen’s (perhaps too dominant?) drums. Jonas’ voice actually sounds stronger and smoother than ever, what magical elixir must he quaff! The track paints a widescreen soundscape with brooding, pounding verses, big choruses, some quite wonderful (as ever) guitar work…so why am I not completely and immediately hooked as usual? Somehow (and yes you can laugh out loud here!), despite the gloom of the lyrics this to me is actually quite a bouncy number! Dark, yes. Melancholy, not really!
And there’s further intrigue with the following Colossal Shade. To me, this positively struts along in a style that would have you thinking of lots of Big US bands with Big hairstyles, were it not for Jonas? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is positively cheerful on the face of it, but I say that without the benefit of the lyrics – a pointer to Napalm Records perhaps.
This is much more like it! Opaline is slower, genuinely brooding, a poignant ambience dominating, within a wonderful composition which feels down-tempo but experimental and soaked in atmospheric goodies.
Birds takes us back into what you could call classic 80’s Hard Rock / Prog territory. It’s very energetic, with perhaps too-busy drums and heavy guitar riffs that reflect their early styles and influences? Don’t get me wrong, Daniel is a peerless drummer but I suspect he’s over-complicated one or two of his contributions here……whereas Drab Moon is just classic Katatonia, the arrangement uses the spaces between sounds to heighten the effect. Less pace, less noise, much more ambience. Like Opaline, this is top-notch!
Author features a monster of a riff, this is an all-round heavyweight that fully shows off this band as a quintet of masters of their collective craft. There’s a wonderful solo from Anders just before the bridge section – really, really powerful stuff, I rate him as being such a superb musician! Impermanence is fragile in comparison…at the start. There’s almost hint of (whisper it soft) Blues at the start, it then builds and builds, layer upon layer, into a faultless whole. It seems simple, but the symphonic nature of the composition is breath-taking, all five playing such strong roles in a wonderfully atmospheric and accomplished track. My personal favourite.
Sclera sidles in, echoey vocals and distant tinkly keys, before another classic Katatonia production washes over you – and it does feel like that, the choruses swirling around and around. Again, the ‘quiet bits’ sort of fill out the ‘noisier bits’! Atrium was the first single, this is another energetic track, Katatonia driving a moody but pacey vibe, massively melodic choruses reminding you that there are several ace singers in this band! There’s a gripping music video (below), that underlines the exceptional atmosphere the five-piece creates with every single note.
What;s this! There’s parts of No Beacon To Illuminate Our Fall that are positively Space-Prog, big fat slabs of synths and electronica having fun, while a stellar solo sails over it all, Jonas’ vocals also floating ethereally through and within. Only six minutes long but there’s so much condensed into this beast! Absconder also feels very proggy, more so than most recent outings, the synths again swirling in a maelstrom above which sits yet more very tasty guitar work. And to top it all, there’s a burst of what could be an electric harpischord – but really I have no idea! Suffice to say it’s seamlessly woven into the tapestry that is a Katatonia track.
So, how to sum up? I’m a relative newcomer to the Altar of Katatonia, so I’ve missed some of the earlier fan angst over changes in style. Katatonia truly are unique in their journey of perpetual evolution, and all hail to them for that. At times, I found myself thinking “hang on, this is too up-beat!” and personally some of the drumming does seem ever-so-slightly over-complicated given Katatonia’s mastery of mood, atmosphere and the space between sound – I’d lost that a little on the first two or three tracks (sorry Daniel!). Weirdly, I also found myself comparing Katatonia to Morrissey and The Smiths at one point!
For me therefore, it’s not quite their best ever work, however you can’t help but be in awe of their total mastery of experimentation and atmosphere…..just don’t next go and do a folky album on us!
(Note to Napalm: given the poeticism of Jonas’ lyrics, it’s a shame they’re not supplied with the review stream?)