Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
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I haven't heard all of Katatonia's albums by any means, but I've heard ones from each of their very different eras. I liked them as a doom/death band in the early nineties; I liked them as they moved away from the extremes; and I kind of still like them now that they're a prog band who are as much rock as metal. This eleventh album is thoughtful, carefully constructed post-metal that I needed repeat listens to really grasp. Patience can be a virtue. But unlike other bands who have similarly transformed, I kind of miss the early days.
It's pleasant enough stuff even on a first listen, but nothing particularly grabbed me that time. Over a couple more, the songs started to soak into my brain and the melodies took hold. Everything Jonas Renkse does nowadays is melody, but it's mostly subtle stuff, hardly grand vocal hooks. The solos do much the same thing and the backing alternates between quieter parts where the bass is very noticeable to emphatic sections with staccato riffs.
Overall, the sound is very nice, which is frankly meant both as a compliment and a putdown. The vocals are always pleasant, melodious, occasionally even soothing. At their most emphatic, the instruments are never vicious, just a bit louder and more lively than in quieter moments, where they're sometimes mellow and sometimes elegant, at some points both.
For instance, Lacquer begins with a backing of strings punctuated by a sort of riff that resembles water drops. The beat sounds electronic and the band add a layer of distortion at points to make it all feel a touch more gritty. The vocals float on a cloud of melody, especially when the harmonies join in. It's a thoroughly nice song. You could take it home to your grandma.
And, sure, that may be as quiet and restrained as this album gets, but that doesn't mean it's alone. Vanishers follows a similar path but is surely even more laid back, especially with a guest female vocal. Lachesis is extra laid back as well, but it's really just an interlude. That's telling, though: the peaceful interlude sounds similar to a few of the actual songs.
And, even when the songs aren't quiet and restrained, that mindset still has hold. It's there on City Glaciers, a much bouncier and catchier song, mostly because of the rhythm section, led by the drums of Daniel Moilanen. It's in there on Behind the Blood too, which does the same but with a much heavier guitar. Rein is perhaps the heaviest and most emphatic song on the album and it's there as well.
Often these heavier songs are like Tool but without the overtly experimental edge. They're certainly progressive but not wildly experimental. Maybe we're better off going with Soen, as they're also Swedish, and more consistent to my thinking. It's hard to listen to songs like Flicker or Neon Epitaph, with Niklas Sandin's bass building the groove and the guitar working alongside it, without thinking of Tool or Soen.
It's hard not to like this album because it's so inherently likeable. It's a safe space, somewhere we can sit down and relax in the company of something enjoyable but not too challenging. However, even after four runs through and some more cherrypicking of favourite songs, it's not connecting with me on a level deeper than that. Of course, as they say, your mileage may vary. If it engages for you, add at least another point to my rating.