For me at least, there are a number of links between Katatonia and Paradise Lost.
I saw them both at the same show for the first time in 2009 (/Into the Pit/084), one of my last gigs in Sheffield before we moved south to London the following month, for a start. They are both bands who’ve, to different extents, shifted their sound over the years, and perhaps have gained or lost fans as a result. Katatonia broadly made their change in one drastic move in the nineties, shedding screamed vocals (vocal cord issues) for clean vocals and a more melodic sound resulted. Paradise Lost famously moved towards synth-led, gothic rock, before something of a fan backlash saw them retreat back to their gothic-doom roots.
/But Listen/163/Doom in the Springtime
The other interesting thing was how the lead tracks from both albums were, to different extents, red herrings. Katatonia’s release came first, and Lacquer was an unexpected shift. Almost entirely electronic, a gentle shimmer of synths backing Jonas Renske’s plaintive vocals, it initially set tongues wagging around whether Katatonia had finally left all trace of their doom roots behind for good. The first track from Obsidian was less of a surprise, at least first – at initial listen, this was Paradise Lost continuing their delve back into slow-paced grinding doom metal, right? Then, a minute in, a metaphorical curtain is pulled back, and the light floods in for a glorious, melodic chorus that had me purring with joy from the first listen. Maybe it’s not going to be more of the same, after all…
Each band take a similar approach on their opening track to the album, though. Delicate guitar picking and strings – along with Nick Holmes’ voice – make up the first two minutes of Darker Thoughts before the band crash in and turn this song from merely interesting to a great, sweeping epic, the kind of song Paradise Lost have always made sound effortless. The first thing we hear from Katatonia is Jonas Renske’s voice (somewhat multi-tracked to dramatic effect), and it similarly takes a while before the rest of the band join, for what turns into a fabulous reminder of what later period Katatonia can do.
But what of the rest of the albums? Let’s take Paradise Lost first. They have been commenting in recent interviews and press releases that parts of this album reflect on their background and influences – and particularly the Goth clubs of their younger days (Goth being an important part of the musical background of their native West Yorkshire). I mean, let’s be clear here – there’s always been a gloomy, Gothic sensibility to the sound of Paradise Lost, it is just exactly how this has manifested that has changed over the years.
But if ever you wanted proof that Paradise Lost grew up listening to The Sisters of Mercy, the exquisite, tumbling drums and two-step shuffle of Ghosts is it. Chiming guitars and Nick Holmes’ lower-register singing help provide a glorious, gothic dancefloor anthem that would normally barely receive comment in the metal press, but has been the talk of them since it was released the other week.
Their knack with balancing accessibility with gothic doom – something they’ve not always wanted to do – comes to the fore with the fabulous, mid-album centrepiece Forsaken. One of the heaviest, chugging songs on the album, it soars on a bed of gentle synths into another, huge chorus – not to mention a stadium-sized, extended guitar solo – and it is one song from this album that I really can’t wait to hear live at some point in the future.
It isn’t all perfect – Serenity grinds and grinds away, the growled vocals feeling oddly tuneless and not really suiting a song that feels tethered, twitching to rise like some of the others, but for some reason it doesn’t – and this is rammed home by it sitting between the aforementioned Forsaken, and the gorgeous, despondent sweep of Ending Days.
One other song of particular note is one that feels particularly prescient right now. Hope Dies Young is another that harks back to another era of Paradise Lost – it very much has the hard-edged melodicism and rhythmic power that made One Second such a joy – but the song delves into relationship failures and the dissolution of hope…man, that latter part is on the nose. Two months into this lockdown, and we still don’t have an idea when we might be even remotely “normal” again. Hope springs eternal, yes, but hope also dies in time.
Katatonia similarly have expanded their sound, and drawn on their past. The punchy Behind The Blood starts with a bombastic guitar solo and only gets better from there, the kind of faster-tempo rocker that Katatonia rarely do these days, and is a neat reminder how good they are when they do. They then do it again on the similarly staggering The Winter of Our Passing, a song that starts a little more restrained before exploding into a glorious, powerful chorus, that might just be the three minutes I use in future to explain quite why I adore this band, and never give up on them.
The hits keep coming, too. Mid-album ballad Vanishers is quietly devastating, with Renske sounding utterly bereft, the song only made all the more impressive by the backing vocals of Anni Bernhard, that sweeten the pill. Even better are the late-album pairing of Flicker and Neon Epitaph. Flicker sees Renske dip back into one of his favourite lyrical subjects (that of obsession and betrayal)), for one of the band’s best songs in the past two decades. Subtle synths bubble at the edges, and help the song come to the boil for a phenomenal, powerful chorus that has now been stuck in my head for about a month. Neon Epitaph is similarly heartfelt, rousing song that appears to be about the horror of losing a family member, but is once again an impressive, heart-stopping song.
Both bands have suffered from something of a backlash from fans over the years. Paradise Lost’s electronic period (particularly the much-maligned, but actually very good Host, which I talked with the band about on /Talk Show Host/045) saw one of the most vociferous fan moaning I’ve ever heard, while Katatonia’s steady move toward more proggy realms has shed them a few fans, too.
The thing is, bands should be allowed to change and evolve. We as fans may not always appreciate that, but we have a simple choice – we don’t have to buy it, we don’t have to make comment on it. Many do regardless, but what we should appreciate is the idea of artistic freedom. In more recent years, it has been clear that both bands have relaxed somewhat and find niches that suit them – and the result with both albums here are, frankly, career-defining albums.
Both of them are the respective band’s best releases in a couple of decades (Paradise Lost since probably One Second, if not Draconian Times, while this is easily Katatonia’s best and most-satisfying release since the glorious Viva Emptiness), and both have reached this point by both exploring their current musical interests, and also by allowing themselves a glimpse or two back into their past.
Even if you’d maybe lost touch with either of these bands in recent years, give both albums a go. There is much to admire and enjoy in two exceptional albums that will doubtless be much-lauded in the end-of-year reckoning, as we give 2020 the boot.