KATATONIA - MNEMOSYNEAN
Despite their highly regarded status as doyens of melancholic metallic rock – and there is no denying the quality of their canon – a cynic could point to Katatonia’s various anniversary concerts and re-packaged albums as well as reworkings of previous output as blatant record label pot boiling between – undeniably good – studio releases. Mnenosynean, a record collating the band’s B-sides and rarities, might raise similar doubts. After all, a good portion of what is included here, particularly newer songs, is readily available elsewhere with only the older material from the band's nascent youth being unfamiliar to all but long-term diehard followers.
The good news is two new tracks - Vakaren and Sistere – do much to boost confidence in this release and sit appositely with Katatonia’s present day prog-influenced refinement. It has taken many years to mature into this increasingly sophisticated iteration of the band’s music which, in recent years, relies more on subtleties and colouring rather than discordance and impact. Vakaren is, unusually, sung in the band’s native Swedish and is awash with pulses of mellow synths and is propelled quietly yet purposefully by insistent, hushed harmonies. Sistere is similarly understated with sparse, meditative strings and delicate layering that build incrementally to a muted fanfare.
Mnemosynean then follows a reverse chronology charting the band’s career from modernity to their early period of development. Wide Awake in Quietus represents the Falls of Hearts sessions and ups the pace with polished, upbeat rock and sumptuous hooklines. Katatonia tend not to indulge in covers but their stripped down, saddened version of Judas Priest’s Night Comes Down is a crestfallen re-purpose that achieves what a good cover should by somehow sounding true to, yet utterly unlike, the original. Perhaps the term is Katatonized.
What these songs do is waymark subsequent musical directions of the band. Early dabbling with electronica-laced sparsity and delicate, stripped-down rock are demonstrated with the subtle drama of the Fall of Hearts era Second and the experimental end-credits style reflection of The Act of Darkening. Another formative foray into wistful fragility is the frail rock of Sold Heart (from Night is the New Day) which throbs with sorrow and class. Another early indication of Katatonia pursuing a more toned down path is Unfurl from The Great Cold Distance sessions, a gentle and vulnerable style the band were trialling prior to it becoming more fully integrated into their core sound.
The tracks from the Night is the New Day sessions have a noticeably heavier, discordant element running through them with the band’s unique combination of down-tuned, vibrating crunch offset with Jonas Renkse’s plaintive, ghostly vocals or perhaps try Wait Outside from Viva Emptiness for another showcase of distilling nightmarish heaviness with shatterable haunted emotion. The extras from the ground breaking Last Fair Deal Gone Down album are chromed rock excellence with the uplifting pathos of Sulphur and the headbanging psychodrama of March 4 which, like the much earlier No Devotion, has a faint echo of Scandinavian Black Metal’s frozen atmospherics fused with catchy song-writing.
Arguably the most superfluous inclusions are the dub remixes which, with the exception of Hypnone – add little to enhance or reinvent the originals and the fact that the band seem to have dropped these experiments in the mid-2000s arguably demonstrate that they are curiosities more than anything else.
As mentioned already, B-side albums are fine fodder for Cassandras but the majority of tracks on Mnemosynean could have effortlessly earned a place on official album releases. Moreover, there is some sheer brilliance in terms of musicianship and song-writing displayed here that will have other acts watching in awe and envy. It shows the depth of qualtiy in Katatonia's back catalogue that many of these songs are left-overs when they would be creative highs of other bands.