Album review: KATATONIA – Sanctitude

KATATONIA - Sanctitude

KScope   [Release date: 30 March 2015]

Back in the day, it was often espoused by people who didn’t like heavy rock that “it’s easy to make a row – but can they cut it live and acoustic?”.

To a greater or lesser extent the MTV ‘Unplugged’ shows did much to extinguish the myth that they couldn’t and set the precedent for many rock artists to expose their musical abilities to the intense scrutiny of the acoustic format.

And now it’s the turn of Swedish doom metal changelings Katatonia.

Their transformation from the dark arts of metal to progressive rock icons, first hinted at on 2009’s ‘Night Is The New Day’ and confirmed on 2012’s ‘Dead End Kings’ has been nothing less than cathartic for the band and, I suspect, for its legion of fans.

The acoustic re-working and re-interpretation of ‘Dead End Kings’ on ‘Dethroned And Uncrowned’ in 2013 was universally acclaimed as a masterpiece and was, without doubt, the catalyst for the subsequent ‘Unplugged & Reworked’ acoustic tour – the results of which are here, in all their glory, on ‘Sanctitude’.

Each venue on the tour was carefully chosen for its unique atmosphere and the decision to record and release the concert at the exquisite candle-lit Union Chapel venue in London sounds absolutely inspired.

For various reasons, the band lost two long-term members shortly before the tour started – drummer Daniel Liljekvist (replaced by ‘JP’ Asplund) and guitarist Per Eriksson.

The loss of Eriksson could well have been catastrophic were it not for the availability of Pineapple Thief frontman Bruce Soord whose peerless musicianship on keyboards as well as guitar – made the doubtlessly traumatic transformation appear seamless.

The Union Chapel has an ambience about it that lends itself to the highest quality of live recording with every nuance and timbre accessible – a fact exploited to the maximum here by the recording engineers.

And what of the music?

The concert’s seventeen songs were recorded in real-time with Jonas Renkse’s somewhat confessional announcements captured in full – and the whole thing is simply sublime.

The tracks are taken from from the band’s entire back-catalogue – from as far back as 1996’s ‘Brave Murder Day’ (‘Day’) to the five tracks from the fabulous ‘Dead End Kings’ (although these are actually the re-workings from ‘Dethroned & Uncrowned’).

There are a few surprises such as ‘Unfurl’ from the ‘July’ EP plus ‘Omerta’  and ‘Evidence’ from 2003’s ‘Viva Emptiness’ which Renkse admits the band only rehearsed the day before – not that you’d notice.

Overall this is a stunning piece of work. The atmosphere is one of total respect between the band and audience (any pin-dropping would, you suspect, have serious consequences) and the quality of the musicianship is simply staggering.

The superb closing track ‘The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here’ where Renkse is joined by guest vocalist Silje Wergeland (from Dutch legends The Gathering) puts the final gloss on what is a uniquely intense yet exceptionally rewarding set that will surely lay down the marker for how these things should be done.

Quite literally – breathtaking.  *****

Review by Alan Jones


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