REVIEW: Katatonia - Dead Air
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
Live lockdown melancholy with amps turned up.
Katatonia only released their brilliant 11th studio album, City Burials, in April 2020 (reviewed here: https://www.jammtomorrow.com/post/review-katatonia-city-burials) but with pandemic restrictions precluding traditional touring, Dead Air is a recording of a livestream performance that took place earlier this year at Studio Gröndahl in the band's native Sweden. It is quite possible that, despite the approval and roll out of C-19 vaccines across the world, this format will be become an increasingly common alternative to traditional concerts and touring options for a long time. The performance includes 20 songs voted for by Katatonia fans and all tracks are drawn from the band's later career. Notably, it is only relatively recently in the band's evolution that they developed into a full-time touring band so there is some irony that they are among those now standard bearing lockdown live music.
Drifting loops and electronica herald opener Lethean and it is clear from the start that this is a looser, rockier incarnation of the band's hallmark crystalline exactitude and powerful nuanced subtleties which layer and enrich their recorded studio work. Mellower numbers such as The Racing Heart and In The White become stately rock songs without losing their core emotional punch while the likes of Ghost of the Sun, Leaders, July and Forsaker are more powerfully metalized and crunched up. In this intimate live setting, the riffs are louder and punchier, the choruses more anthemic and the set is enhanced by a strong and elaborate percussion performance.
The track-listing is formidable with long-term staples such as Teargas, Deliberation, and Evidence although there are novelties in new City Burials tracks - The Winter of Our Passing, Lacquer, and Behind the Blood - all being debuted live and they manifest convincingly in this amped up environment. The set selection binds together cogently with variation and changes in pace with the low-fi electro-laced Unfurl and the plaintive Omerta included in the final quarter. Moreover, the band demonstrate instinctive interplay, energy and impact while the production is clear and balanced so not to eschew the finer nuances of mood.
Frontman Jonas Renkse's clean singing and vulnerable light vocal style, so crucial to the unique ghostly melancholy on record, has sometimes been exposed in a live setting and there is occasional wavering here too but, on the whole, his live singing has matured with touring and experience. Holistically, this is a good performance and the band sound enthused, enervated, and focussed.
This is an intimate live album but not a gig. As already noted, we may have to get used to such performances. Kataonia do this well and at 88 minutes over two discs this is good value rather than a filler. Not only is it an archive for the extraordinary year of 2020 but it showcases a band who no longer only boast one of the most impressive and enviable discographies in their field but have been steadily developing into a profound force live.