REVIEW: Katatonia - City Burials
Updated: Jul 5, 2020
Over the course of three decades, Katatonia have developed into lauded doyens of sophisticated melancholic rock metal. Formed in Sweden as a youthful death metal outfit before adopting clean vocals and a polished rock sound in the late 1990s, the band's output since has been seminal.
City Burials is Katatonia's first album after a brief career hiatus intended to re-evaluate the band's future. Opener Heart Set to Divide is classic modern-era Katatonia and, with its plaintive expansiveness, dovetails effortlessly from 2016's prog-orientated The Fall of Hearts.
Behind the Blood provides the first twist with an incongruously bluesy, hedonistic loud guitar entrance. This is no wild lapse into cheerfulness, however, as the ballsy hair shaking rockout is kept in check by brooding verses and crestfallen themes; it is like a feel-good rock song for driving through some black nightmare.
The real musical departure evident in City Burials, however, is the adoption of electronica; something the band have occasionally dabbled with, but not fully committed to, in the past. The sparse tinkling keys of Lacquer drift through gentle gusts of quiet samples which compliment Jonas Renke's ghostly vulnerable vocals. Vanishers and the brief Lachesis offer further explorations into late night synth-washed minimalist tortured meditations which could perhaps be dubbed melancholic chillout.
While heaviness has not been abandoned, it is often apparent in atmosphere and mood rather than pure volume. Rein, for example, offers familiar heavy crushing claustrophobia interspersed with delicate ethereal bridges. The Winter of Our Passing picks up the pace with a throbbing, memorable beat and chorus.
Changing tack once more, City Glaciers has nods to the paranoid intensity of Tool while Flicker has an almost has a subtle industrial texture before taking off in a multi-layered prog crescendo.
City Burials demonstrates Katatonia are continuing to evolve and challenge. Some of the subtle drama and electronica on show are unrecognisable from the band's death metal youth or even mid-career despondent rock. Yet the mournful atmosphere captured in those nascent years as survived to this day. City Burials is not an immediate album with few of the memorable choruses found on Last Fair Deal Gone Down (2001). It is multi-layered and textured with a masterly variation of pace and volume. Repeat listens will unearth the depth of quality musicianship and artistry for subtle understated flourishes and emotional intelligence.