Katatonia Make Epic Return To NYC 4-21-17

It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, that the further the distance, the longer the duration, that the yearning builds ever so slowly. Such is the case in the darkened hearts of Katatonia’s North American fan base who has waited four long years to see the beloved band in concert again.

Last visiting the region in support of 2012’s Dead End Kings, it feels more like a decade has passed, but in late 2016, Katatonia announced their return to the USA and Canada on their Fallen Hearts Of North America 2017. A long overdue visit, it comes nearly a year following the release of the band’s The Fall of Hearts album. Their tenth overall album, much like previous Katatonia work, there is a level of progression, but even still, the textures amidst each track remained very much Katatonia-esque. Eager to hear the new music live, on March 16th, the run launched in Washington D.C., and on Friday, April 21st, following weeks of circling the states and Canada, Katatonia closed out the tour at Irving Plaza in New York City. 

A more than fitting destination for any band to end a tour, the Swedes drew a packed house, even though across town Sabaton, Leaves Eyes, and Battle Beast hosted the Playstation Theater. Katatonia had their own all-star cast in pocket, bringing along Post-Rock act Caspian and the younger band Uncured. A different lineup from their previous 2013 tour when they teamed up with the likes of TesseracT, Intronaut, and Cult of Luna, Katatonia offered an equally compelling bill to fans. 

First to take the stage was the relatively new band going by the name Uncured. A rather unknown equitant to the masses, Uncured has built a lot of buzz among web-based publications calling their style unique, melodic, yet brutal. Hailing from New York City, yet offering a sound that leans more toward European styled Death Metal at times, Uncured were eager to return home to the massive turnout. 

Performing songs off their recently released debut album, Medusa, Uncured wasted no time going full throttle into some heavy, diverse Metal tunes. Led by brothers Zak on vocals/guitar and Rex Cox on vocals/guitar, along with Liam Manley on drums and Jon Kita on bass, together they came together for a tightly knit group dishing out intense original music. Matching speedy technical guitar riffs with blistering drumming, the true highlight of Uncured’s set was the ability to slow it down at the drop of a dime, mixing in darker, compelling musical storylines amidst all the chaos. Certainly the rowdiest band of the evening, when it was all said and done, Uncured proved to be one well-worth showing up early for. 

Shifting gears, next up came Beverly, Massachusetts’ Caspian. No stranger to the Post-Rock scene, Caspian has been at it for over a decade now, sharing stages with everyone from Japan’s Mono to Seattle’s Minus the Bear. Last releasing a full-length album in 2015 when they put out the visceral Dust and Disquiet, Caspian is highly regarded for their unique cinematic approach to songwriting. 

Casually approaching the platform, Philip Jamieson (guitar, keyboards, synthesizers), Calvin Joss (guitar, pedal steel guitar), Joe Vickers (drums), Erin Burke-Moran (guitar), Jonny Ashburn (guitar), and Jani Zubkovs (bass) slowly let the tension mount with their 2012 song “Fire Made Flesh.” A lengthy piece, much like all their work, emotions ran high as the layers of sound built into a full-on odyssey of Shoegaze-like guitar work. Nothing less than breathtaking, the intensity of “Malacoda” was a bit more insane as Vickers’ drums took off with the ensemble of guitars uniting for melodic distortion of the highest order.

At this point, Caspian was only two songs in, but it had felt much longer due to the plethora of tempo changes. Speaking of which, the atmosphere moved once more as they went into “Ríoseco,” which began with textured orchestration that played out like a dream. This similar vibe continued on with “Arcs of Command” as a repetitive guitar riff remained constant through various movements among the other guitars, making for another jaw-dropping live rendition before they closed out “Castles High, Marble Bright.” The finale was as surreal as the previous tunes, but perhaps the sense that the performance was coming to a head made it that much more emotional. Whatever it may be, Caspian is a musical experience that Post-Rock fans or simply anyone who appreciates the magic of instrumental Rock compositions must check out. 

Following two vastly different, yet equally effective opening acts, the time had arrived for Katatonia’s entrance. Originally begun more as a Death Metal act, Katatonia continued to grow, and by 1998’s Discouraged Ones, shifted to a more dark, melodic sound; the boldest change was Jonas Renkse new found clean vocals. A focal point in the band’s history, it has been a steady progression forward since, with standout records coming in the years to follow including 1999’s Tonight’s Decision, 2001’s Viva Emptiness, all the way through last year’s The Fall of Hearts. Begun as a project established by Renkse and Guitarist/Backing Vocalist Anders Nyström, it remains as such twenty plus years later as the duo team up with their newest lineup including Bassist Niklas Sandin, Guitarist Roger Öjersson, and Drummer Daniel Moilanen. A new look for the band, the faces around may change, but the lore of Katatonia remains constant.

Speaking of their history, after so many years of not being a Death Metal band, it never ceases to delight and amaze how many Death Metal fans pack out a Katatonia show. As mentioned, from Katatonia’s early years of Death Metal, which flowed into their middle years of Doom, to their now iconic Progressive Dark Rock sound, the fact that so many of their diehard fans are the same who have listened since 1993’s Dance of December Souls and 1996’s Brave Murder Day, only goes to show how their music has seamlessly progressed over the years.

All this in mind, with their rich history, Katatonia opened their set with “Last Song Before the Fade” off their current album The Fall of Hearts. As usual, there has always been something about Renkse’s live voice that is not quite caught on recordings. Upon hearing the newest album, some fans may have felt Renkse’s voice was lacking something, but live, he brought the newest songs to life in classic form. In total, they played five songs off The Fall of Hearts, including “Serein The Fall of Hearts,” “Old Heart Falls,” and “Residual.” Mixing them in and around the set, the crowd’s response to the new songs was as positive as it was to the older ones including “Dead Letters” “Teargas,” “Evidence,” and “Soil’s Song. ” 

Moving along, three times, mini mosh pits broke out for the harder/older songs, but quickly died down. That is not to say the crowd was tame, they were anything but. Anything one would typically see fans doing at a harder Metal show was in evidence; headbanging, dancing, and all-out singing. Man or woman, everyone sang every lyric from each song such as “In The White” and the addictive “Leaders.” However, “Ghost of the Sun” was definitely a fan-favorite with the audience as they screamed the refrain’s lyrics while Renkes held the microphone out to them.

When Katatonia exited stage after their final new song, “Passer,” the crowd immediately started chanting their name and yelling the usual “One More Song!” chant. A few minutes later, Katatonia returned with fans still chanting in excitement. The screams only got louder when the beginning notes of The Great Cold Distance’s “My Twin” began. Again, not a voice was silent as virtually everyone sang. From here, Katatonia immediately rolled into “Lethean” from Dead End Kings then finished with another offering from The Great Cold Distance, “July.”

After a long period apart from North America, Renke’s voice is as haunting and strong as it has ever been. In addition, Nyström’s Death Metal screams perfectly complemented Renke’s melodic vocals, adding an even more powerful element to the songs live than it does on recordings. There is no denying what each member of this band brings, but most of all, it was great seeing how active they were with the crowd. Not only are they amazing musicians, but each member of Katatonia was truly happy to be engaging their dedicated followers, an element that added an extra level of enjoyment to show. From the music, to the stage performance, to the interaction, seeing a Katatonia live show just once will get you hooked to see the next, and the next, and the next…

Photos by: Aintellin Photography

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