I’ve long felt Katatonia to belong to the lineage of underappreciated bands in metal. They are a band that have been around for a remarkably long time – they initially formed in 1991 – and shed their early death-doom roots early on. Indeed it could be said that Jonas Renkse’s move to clean vocals for health reasons was actually a blessing for the band, as it allowed an evolution of their sound that they arguably would never have otherwise achieved.
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In some respects, they belong in a position alongside their British peers Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, all of whom began with a much harsher sound and gradually explored other realms, and it is very much the case that all four now stand apart with their own unique take on a more melodic, doomy form of metal. Katatonia, though, have begun to take more time with their releases than the others, with lengthy gaps between albums nowadays (three-to-four years between albums is now the norm, with their last album The Fall of Hearts coming almost exactly three years ago this week, and there is as yet no sign of another album on the horizon.
This additional time between albums has allowed Katatonia to explore their past a bit, and at times revise their history, too. Their career highlight Viva Emptiness was first, with a totally remastered and partially remixed take on it, that apparently was to correct what they saw deficiencies from the original recording, and to my eternal regret I missed the tour for it.
I made sure I didn’t miss the album tour for The Great Cold Distance that followed in 2016, though, particularly as the London date was a special, one-off where they did a “best of” set as well that covered a song from every other album (and a second, unexpected encore of Ghost of the Sun) – and the whole show was great, including ramming home that I perhaps hadn’t given …Distance as much love when it was released as I should have.
I was rather left in a similar position with this tour. I have to admit that Night Is The New Day is not a Katatonia album I have returned to a great deal over the past decade, but maybe that’s been my loss. Particularly as soon as they took to the stage, they tore into the chugging riffs and dichotomy between crushing power and delicate beauty that is the opener Foresaker, and you know what? Things got better with the soaring, desperate chorus of The Longest Year, which thinking about it, goes down as possibly one of the best choruses Renske has ever written.
Maybe one of the things that put me off this album originally were the ballads – and for me they were the moments that made my attention wander here, too. Idle Blood and Inheritance both aim for the stars and the heartstrings, but just didn’t move me at all again here, either – maybe as I’ve got older I just ended up with a heart of stone. If so, sorry Katatonia, it’s not you, it’s me.
The whole evening, though, was worth it alone for the glorious Liberation, that swells and builds into another chorus that writhes and seethes, as Renske considers shedding his past for a new future, but (interesting) pledges to keep his lover part of it – and musically the song keeps you on your toes, as it saves the punch for later than you expect – and for a band that ruthlessly keep their songs relatively short nowadays, I would happily have had another four or five minutes of this brillance.
I’d never really considered it previously, but the band noted that Nephilim is considered to be a nod back to the heavier roots – and certainly at parts it is, but it isn’t, for example, half as jarring as their relatively regular airings of Murder have been in recent years! Even so, the sludgier pace and sheer heaviness of the song was very much pronounced live, and maybe it was that the production style Katatonia have used in recent years just didn’t suit this song, as it was certainly much better live.
The Longest Year
Onward Into Battle
The Promise of Deceit
Day and Then the Shade
Old Heart Falls
Night Comes Down
The main set – the whole album was of course played in order – closed off with two intriguing songs. Day & Then The Shade seemed a curious choice of single at the time to me, but here was the most immediate song of the set, and joyously received by the near-sold-out crowd (who, by the way, were a friendly bunch and I didn’t notice any hint of the trouble or aggro that seems to be guaranteed at most London gigs nowadays). Things closed off with an epic, and possibly longer than usual take on Departer, with a star turn from (I think!) Anders on vocals for the core of the song, that was an extraordinary, spine-tingling moment, and quite the close to the performance.
There was, of course, an encore, but it wasn’t a particularly long one, instead picking one song from each of the past three albums, and they were all popular choices. Lethean has such an extra power and momentum from the rarely-used (by this band) double kick drums, and was easily the pick of the album it comes from, while Old Heart Falls emphasised the romantic beauty that this band can invoke at, seemingly, the drop of a hat.
Taking us back to last time – and with perhaps even more crowd participation than then, too – was July, which remains the greatest song the band have released in the past fifteen years. It combines metal power, gentle ambience, and Renske hitting every part of his vocal range as the song powers through to the climactic close. But the glory of that song really did put into focus just what an odd choice they made to finish the show with.
That final song was a cover, of Judas Priest’s Night Comes Down (from Defenders of the Faith), which they recorded a few years back. Now, maybe if I was more of a Judas Priest fan – while I’m aware of their importance and know a number of songs, their style was never really my thing as a go-to listen – the Katatonia take would have meant more to me, but having now listened to the original, well, it was a fairly faithful take.
But it seemed to leave a fair amount of the crowd nonplussed, too, but then, the rest of the gig was great, so I can forgive this most excellent of bands something of an indulgence.
Thus, now this tour is wrapped up, what next for this band? There’s been a lot of looking back in recent times by them, with only the occasional move forward with new material, and as good as this show was, I’m looking forward to hearing something new from them when they are ready to do so. Their more melodic sound so deserves a wider audience than just a bunch of metalheads, really, but do the band particularly care at this stage in their careers? Actually, with gigs as consistently good as theirs are, I’m not sure their fans particularly care too much either.
I’ll certainly be near the front of the queue next time around for another tour.