Thursday, March 24, 2011

Days And Nights Blurring Together

In a recent spate of music purchase catch-up I picked up Katatonia's most recent album (from 2009) Night Is The New Day.

Katatonia is an extremely accomplished Swedish band whose output is usually labeled doom metal, though they sound pretty distinct from My Dying Bride, Swallow The Sun, or any other staple of that genre. And this is a really good record. REALLY good. Very melancholic, but with some great tempo changes, very heavy in places, and great vibrant production. The critics love it. 'Best ever' many say.

Here's my problem with it, though. It is Katatonia.

What I mean is that Katatonia is so recognisable, and so exacting at what they do, that I'm not finding this album to be any different from what I've heard from them many times before. This newest release might be the highest 'quality' album they've ever done, but I'm just not wowed by anything on here because it all sounds like variations on previous songs. This can, of course, be a problem with any band that has a signature sound. Sometimes I get in the mood to listen to a certain band 'for a while'. Rather than just play a new disc over and over, I'll re-explore their back catalog. Bands like Katatonia suffer in this regard. A new album from them every couple of years is great. You haven't listened to them in a while, and it is like an old friend visiting when you finally pop in the new release. But if you subject yourself to a lot of their stuff, the welcome wears out before you get very far. My problem may be that I listened to two Katatonia albums not too long before buying this. THIS one is better. But not SO much better that particular songs are just sticking with me right now.

Years ago, Katatonia came out with Last Fair Deal Gone Down. That release got a lot of criticism for being too soft, too much of a departure from what fans expected. Think Opeth's mostly acoustic album Damnation and you get the idea... though Opeth escaped fan wrath, probably because they warned everyone before the release date arrived. I, however, think Last Fair Deal is a stellar album, and it is probably the most memorable Katatonia record for me. It breaks from all the other stuff, while still sounding like it is music from the same set of musicians. If Night Is The New Day were the only Katatonia album I had, it'd be a revelation... but it isn't. And ironically if it were the only album I owned it'd spur me on to buy their back catalog, which would of course then show me that their releases all sound largely the same.

I guess this reads a lot more critical than I really intend. Katatonia are good at what they do. And I like what they do. It seems weird to make them out to be a one-trick pony like most death metal or grindcore bands are because they aren't locked into particular instruments, tempos, structures or any of that stuff. The singer Jonas Renske's vocal style is not harsh. He can sing. But everything they do is SO specific to THEM.

I can easily recommend this album to anyone who likes stuff like Anathema or the clean-singing parts of Opeth. But once you buy it, sadly, you've pretty much heard everything they seem to have to say. I think I need to listen to this some more and let it prove out its uniqueness if it can.

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