Peaceville [Release date: 20.05.16]
There are occasions aren’t there when only a quietly muttered ‘wow’ really does justice to whatever you’re experiencing at the time?
There was a moment halfway through track 6, ‘Residual’, that I thought ‘I’m in the presence of greatness here’ – I could find no other way of describing it.
Ever since Katatonia turned their collective face against the doom metal of their early years with ‘Night Is The New Day’ in 2009, the quality of their work has soared irresistibly album upon album.
‘Dead End Kings’ in 2013 took their moody, atmospheric progressive template to an even higher level, a level confirmed by the subsequent ambient reworking of ‘DEK’ with ‘Dethroned And Uncrowned’ and the quite stunning Union Chapel live acoustic set ‘Sanctitude’.
And now here’s ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ which both progresses the intense atmospherics of recent albums and – with what may be a shock to the band’s recently garnered fans – re-introduces occasional blasts from their metallic days of yore.
Yes, the thrash is back, but only in short sharp shocks and which, in a somewhat paradoxical manner, enhances still further the wonderment of the all-pervading aura of glorious melancholia – a Yin and Yang in its most complementary form.
The thirteen tracks on offer here sweep the listener along on waves of euphoria carried by the unmistakable voice of Jonas Renkse – his imploring tones being a perfect match for the astonishing instrumentation and intense lyrics.
And it is an intense listen – no downloading your favourite tracks here – once started it demands your undivided attention from the first hints of doom metal on opener ‘Takeover’ to the fabulous (sung in their native Swedish) rock of closer ‘Vakaren’.
What comes between can only be described as an emotive catharsis for the soul with the other-worldly atmospherics of tracks such as ‘Old Heart Falls’, ‘Decima’, ‘Residual’ and ‘Pale Flag’ cut with the pounding rock of ‘Serein’, the almost thrash (but always under control) ‘Serac’ and the anthemic riffing overlaid with great vocals of ‘The Night Subscriber’.
Despite its intensity, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is an engaging experience, the whole album being shot through with breathtaking moments of musical and lyrical brilliance.
Special mention must be made, not only of the outstanding guitar work of Anders Nystrom, but also the exceptional and expressive drumming of Daniel Moilanen which accentuates the album’s ever-changing moods and tempo.
Recent converts to Katatonia’s new-found status as purveyors of phlegmatic progressive rock may be a little alarmed at the (albeit occasional) re-appearance of the band’s doom-metal roots, but this should really be embraced as a counterpoint to the predominating calm – they are, when all is said and done, a rock band at heart.
A top, top effort, the best album of the year so far, and as I said at the beginning – ‘wow’. *****
Review by Alan Jones
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