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  • JammT



Very seldom do you get a band that truly don’t make lame albums, but Katatonia is one. Throughout the band’s long road of steady evolution from youthful death doom metal to prog-inflected chromed melancholic rock there has never been a duffer or even a mediocre release. They have always managed to re-imagine and modify their brand of deep-thinking melancholy just enough to continue evolving without forgoing their core DNA. Having said that their last album City Burials (here is our album review ) divided some opinion with its fragile, stripped back electronica emphasis. With such high standards, the band face a perennial challenge of what to try next that will avoid treading water and yet maintain their renowned emotional punch.

Sky Void of Stars borrows elements from across the last decade of the band's history. Opener Austerity is quintessential modern-day Katatonia exchanging agitated, staccato rhythms with spacious, reflective choruses linked by unobvious proggy bridges. The band have an enduring knack of retaining an identifiable and unique sound while toying with novel techniques and both Colossal Shade and Opaline test conformity with a 1980s rock gait and twisted melancholic march respectively that provoke a double take at the speakers. The band have also penned some real understated anthems in their time and the two most immediate and memorable tracks here are the singles of the upbeat hair-shaking rock of Birds with its insistent hook lines or the airy poppiness of Atrium.

For the most part, Sky Void of Stars reclines into deceptively complex meditative sombreness with a series of emotionally persecuted quasi-ballads such as the saturnine Drab Moon, the restrained yet imploring drama of Impermanence or the late-night atmospheric noir mystique of Sclera. There is a lot going on in Katatonia’s music with clever layered interplays, twists and wends in timing, breaks and moods that swing from breathy choruses to brittle, hushed vulnerability. Crucially, however, the sound rarely becomes congested or too busy despite the ideas piling up within them. The principal departure from the winter night crisp electronica of City Burials is that Sky Void of Stars has quite a richer, fuller synth deployment giving this has a fatter, cinematic weight of impact. It has more decoration and pomp.

Katatonia have a high-brow reputation to preserve and work hard to do so. Even despite occasional line-up changes, the band has always delivered an enviable quality of musicianship and songcraft and so it is here. There have perfected the distillation of timing, intricacy and atmosphere. Sky Void of Stars is filled with familiarities yet is not predictable or standard issue. With every release there is always incremental stylistic challenge and development that does not debase their uniqueness or signature quality. As ever, their production is plush, lush and enveloping, seeking scrutiny of their dimly haunted stairways and lighter reprises. Always attentive to their holistic aesthetic, the sumptuous and detailed artwork complements the sound in its gothic opulence rather than their more fragile or austere works in their estimable canon. It is a highly accomplished work…which is why this feels like some form of state subversion to say that while it has class par excellence and shows off a standard and intelligence unattainable for many rock acts, it is not their most truly inspired work. Unbelievably this is not a criticism but a reflection of the strength and renown of their discography. Sky Void of Stars has a massive sound and scope and will be rightly acclaimed by critics and fans though perhaps not lauded as their greatest triumph. In this case, however, that is still a win.

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