/Into the Pit /211 /Katatonia & Sólstafir

Remarkably, I believe that this was my last rescheduled gig in the aftermath of lockdowns and shutdowns, after a few years of next-to-no gigs, followed by a 2022 that seemed to be spent trying to catch up. This particular tour was one of those rescheduled at least once, maybe more, and indeed the headliners had recorded and released another album in the meantime, meaning that they were effectively promoting both on the same tour.

/Into The Pit /211 /Katatonia & Sólstafir

/Bands /Katatonia /Sólstafir /SOM
/Date /10-Feb 2023
/Venues /O2 Forum Kentish Town /London /NW5

But more of that in a moment.

We got there in time for some of SOM‘s set, and they were an intriguing proposition. By a long chalk, not exactly the first band to combine doomy metal and dreamy, shoegazey textures, but that said they were impressive live and certainly have had me listening to them online since.

/Setlist /Sólstafir

Náttmál / Köld / Rismál / Melrakkablús / Bloodsoaked Velvet / Rökkur / Fjara / Ótta / Goddess of the Ages

I am more than familiar with Icelanders Sólstafir, who’ve plugged away for a couple of decades now, with seemingly ever more successful results, at least judging on the noisy, excitable reaction the crowd gave them at the Forum. This is some feat, when you think about what they do: an ever-evolving mix of progressive, chilly rock that is mostly sung in their native language.

That said, their last couple of albums, which have moved away somewhat from the thrilling releases that came before them, at points toward stoner rock, have lost me a bit, so a set that mostly concentrated on their three greatest albums (that is, Köld, Svartir sandar and Ótta) was absolutely fine by me, and as they rolled through a lengthy, seventy-five minute set, it was easy to get sucked into their world.

It was notable, too, that even the annoying, chattering people at the back went silent when the majesty of Fjara (a song of desperate, crushing sadness, both in sound – and lyrics, at least, as an English speaker, when you translate them) was heralded by the gentlest of percussion, before, as it does, swelling into a heart-wrenching climax. It sounds like no-one else, and whether Sólstafir like it or not, will be their calling card forevermore.

By the time they had finished with a thrilling, rollicking Goddess of the Ages, there was the feeling of a victory lap for a band that have never compromised and are now reaping the rewards of being a truly outstanding live band.

I have been a fan of Katatonia for an awfully long time, it feels like. I remember first being played Last Fair Deal Gone Down over twenty years ago, and obsessing over the gloomy beauty – and then obsessing over pretty much every release since, as they’ve perfected and refined their dark power in the years since.

That first album I heard was their fourth album, and twenty-two years on, they are now on their twelfth (Sky Void of Stars), and so they have a lot of material to play with. Previous shows I’ve seen have seen the band unafraid to avoid fan favourites, digging into some different, unexpected songs instead, and this show (and tour – I understand they stuck with the same set across it) saw them perhaps stuck between the two.

/Setlist /Katatonia

Austerity / Colossal Shade / Lethean / Deliberation / Birds / Behind the Blood / Forsaker / Opaline / Buildings / My Twin / Atrium / Old Heart Falls / Untrodden / Encore: July / Evidence

Then again, having to consider the promotion of two albums (City Burials from 2020 and the brand new one) can’t have been easy, particularly as City Burials seems to have had something of a mixed reaction – which is weird, as I adored it. Even stranger, just two songs from it were aired here, the full-on thrills of Behind the Blood (probably the heaviest track Katatonia have done in years), and the soaring ballad Untrodden, that unexpectedly closed the main set.

The brand new songs were a bit of a mixed bag live, too, although part of that was down to a rough sound set-up, that nearly obliterated the opening Austerity entirely (how many times has this happened at The Forum? Far too many, I can tell you). Much better was the fast-paced rush of Birds, and the glorious Opaline, which has another of those choruses that Jonas Renske breaks my heart with every time.

Later in the set, too, it was notable that they began to concentrate on songs from previous albums, with a particular note for the disconsolate despair of Old Heart Falls, a song of such sadness that few other bands could make it work. But something, though, didn’t feel quite right about the set. Perhaps it was just an off night, perhaps it was just a selection of songs that I didn’t like as much as some others might have excited me more…

But then the encore made me forgive almost anything. July is rousing enough, but then to roll out their (in my opinion, anyway) greatest song to finish? Evidence is a song of obsession and revenge, and perhaps a tinge of shame in the sheer bitterness that drips from every note. Live, it turns into an extraordinary, supercharged anthem, and it was certainly received as such by the crowd.

The other thing is that Katatonia have been around long enough now – and have left behind elements of their past more than once anyway – that they have earned the right to do their own thing, and not have to pander to fans like me. They have been absolutely transcendent at other shows (their epic show at Shepherd’s Bush a few years back remains one of the best gigs I’ve seen in the past decade), but this one…well, there’s always a next time, right?

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