Sweden’s Katatonia are one of those bands that has been around forever, yet perhaps do not get all the recognition they deserve. First begun nearly thirty years ago, initially as more of a Doom Death Metal act, they soon shifted toward a highly distinctive sound all their own, begun with 1998’s Discouraged Ones. Achieving excellence over the next several years, they pumped out one brilliant effort after another of Doom laden Hard Rock – 1999’s Tonight’s Decision, 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down, and 2003’s Viva Emptiness. Then it looked like they were finally getting their due respect from a broader audience around 2006’s The Great Cold Distance.
An unmistakable turning point, Katatonia’s success rose higher with three subsequent releases from 2009’s Night Is the New Day, 2012’s Dead End Kings, into 2016’s The Fall of Hearts. All fine albums with various moments of brilliance, it is important to mention, much like most forward-thinking bands, Katatonia’s sound has altered quite a bit. Still centralized around Jonas Renkse’s voice and Anders Nyström’s intricate guitar work, with each album they seem to be leaning more and more toward a Progressive style. Which leads us to question, where do they go from here? Fortunately there is an answer, because Katatonia are back on Friday, April 24th with their new album City Burials via longtime label Peaceville Records.
An album that came together after a much needed reprieve from touring, City Burials is also the first to include Guitarist Roger Öjersson as a full-time member. In addition, Katatonia brought back Keyboardist Anders Eriksson (Frank Default), who some may recall from his contributions to Night Is The New Day, Dead End Kings, among other remixes. So, with fresh blood and much needed rest…does City Burials deliver the goods?
A question that can only be determined based on an individual’s tastes, City Burials is something new, but also on a very similar trajectory to their recent works. Offering eleven songs on the standard edition, and two bonus tracks on other formats, City Burials unfolds like a mysterious novel. This is why it cannot be judged as fragmented pieces, but only as a collective piece where the beginning, middle, and end are integral to the understanding of the whole.
This in mind, there are plenty of peaks and valleys throughout – from the haunting opening of “Heart Set To Divide” and more up tempo, dazzling melodies of “Behind The Blood,” to the brilliance of “Lacquer,” one of the boldest moments of all. And continuing the journey, “Rein” possesses dramatic movements matched with riveting guitar work before a bounty of sonic textures implode on “The Winter Of Our Passing.” With plenty more unfolding in between and toward the tail-end of it all, there are also must listens such as “Vanishers,” a moving piece of harmonic vocalization thanks to a guest appearance by Full of Key’s Anni Bernhard.
Overall, some might say the middle years of Katatonia were their finest, and there is an argument to be made there. Others might find the exploration in the band’s sound over the last decade to be the pinnacle of their music, and there is also an argument to be made there. However you might think, if you have followed the steady progression of Katatonia through the years, and have been open to the changes, you will absolutely love City Burial. It is progressive, dark, extremely well-produced, and combines all the elements Katatonia has sought to perfect over their last few albums. That is why Cryptic Rock give City of Burial 4 out of 5 stars.