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Album Review: KATATONIA - City Burials

Artist: Katatonia

Album: City Burials

Genre: Gothic Metal

Review by Andrew Denning

Katatonia is a band I am no stranger to. The masters of melancholy have been in my CD rotation for almost 10 years, so the chance to sink my teeth into their newest opus ‘City Burials’ was one I did not plan to miss. The return of Anders Erikson on keyboards and soundscapes from the band’s 2012 album ‘Dead End Kings’ makes a return on this release too, making for a very special experience.

This album has found itself in a very different space than its predecessor ‘The Fall of Hearts’. The band has elected for a more direct approach to songwriting and performance this time, focusing heavily on structuring and delivery of all the layers presented. Less experimentation, more focus.

In mere seconds, vocalist Jonas Renske and Erikson set the tone for ‘City Burials’ with a haunting and sorrowful opener in Heart Set To Divide. The trademark Katatonia pain is on display in the open, as the layers of the band are gently introduced, piece by harrowing piece. No space is wasted as we are delivered a build from Jonas and Anders alone, to full blown melancholy metal by the end. The guitar work deserves mention on this release, it is clear everyone has found their places since the member shifts in prior albums. Upping the pace, Behind The Blood features some more excellent guitar work in the form of both traditional metal riffs and soaring guitar solos. This is easily the most “metal” Katatonia has sounded in years without risking the delicate soundscape they have become known for. I’ve found myself humming the vocal melody to this track for days following listening, Jonas is a skilled writer when it comes to hooks in his phrasing.

This phrasing excellence carries into the debut single Lacquer, a song that has been a staple in my house for months now. Renske knows his strengths and has them 100% on display here, with very little backing instrumentation. There is almost an electronica vibe coming through from Erikson, creating a hypnotic tone that is very pleasing to the ear. Definitely a high point of this release. Not wanting to settle into a pattern, the soaring guitar returns to us and brings us into Reins. Big soundscapes are the name of the game here, and this track delivers it in piles. Guitars and keyboards harmonising together to create dreamlike landscapes, without a loss in the intensity being delivered. My only complaint would be a feeling of anticlimax, feeling like this track ended before its prime.

The electronica returns front and centre in The Winter Of Our Passing, harkening to the bands earlier works like ‘Viva Emptiness’. Guitars have not been forgotten though, once again played with harmonic precision to boost and accentuate the keyboard's main rhythm. Much like Lacquer, this track has a habit of getting stuck in my ear, a testament to the skillful writing the band has achieved on this release. The band has brought some company to the show this time, with Anni Bernhard from Stockholm based art rock outfit Full of Keys joining Renske in the vocal ring for the delicate Vanishers. The two take front and centre of the stage here, two extremely talented singers in the one space as guitars and keys give them the space needed. The chorus highlights the power these two have, projecting an ethereal tone over the entire song. I would love to hear more from the two of them in the future.

City Glaciers feels like a nod to the band's time in the Dead End King series of albums. All the pieces are here; harmonised guitars, sweeping keyboard soundscapes, Renske’s trademark gloom. Vocal layering on the chorus deserves a mention for its perfect delivery. Though this may be the only track on the album that doesn’t quite push the envelope quite as much, even if it is enjoyable in and of itself. In a move that almost took me back to ‘The Great Cold Distance’, the band has harnessed some of the metal in their roots to deliver a strong hitter in Flicker. Just enough aggression musically to balance the melancholy, the song writing on display is Katatonia at its peak. Not a wasted moment from anyone here, and an excellent keyboard solo from Erikson to top it off. Another high point without a doubt.

This is where it gets interesting. Lachesis is a sorrowful interlude featuring only Renske’s vocals and Erikson’s keyboards, a moment of soft reprieve for what’s to come. No sooner do we move forward; we are greeted with a dominating bassline from Niklas Sandin combining his skills with the other guitars to make for a grooving intro to Neon Epitaph. The metal roots are on display once again, with a healthy dose of 80’s style groove. A Katatonia track you can definitely bang your head to is always a welcome addition, especially for fans of their older material. Sadly, though, another track finished too soon for me. We couldn’t leave without one more dose of sorrow of course, delivered to our ears by the care of Untrodden. A solemn-paced monument to all that the band has grown to represent over the past three albums, just the right balance of instrumental work given that ever so soft Katatonia touch. The guitar solo in the later half is presented so delicately, it shows the time the band has put into the writing here. A true testament to the kings of misery.

Through its myriad soundscapes, ‘City Burials’ has proven that Katatonia are without a doubt back and in full form. There is no sound they seemingly can’t combine into themselves and make their own. The future looks very bright for these bleak Swedish metallers with a release this strong under their belts.

City Burials’ will be released April 24th through Peaceville Records.

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