Album review: KATATONIA – Dead Air

KATATONIA - Dead Air

Peaceville [Release date: 13.11.20]

First of all a confession: I did not join the Katatonia train until they de-coupled themselves from their black metal roots around 2009 with the progressive metal behemoth of an album, ‘Night Is The New Day’.

There is a track from one of their albums, ‘Viva Emptiness’, I (shamefully) missed out on, called ‘Omerta’ which has the line ‘Why have you waited so long?’.

I couldn’t agree more as ‘Dead Air’ sets out to show me what I’ve been missing.

Katatonia were all set to tour in 2020 and showcase the unanimously acclaimed  ‘City Burials’ album to live audiences worldwide.

This, obviously, proved impossible, so the band decided to get together, perform live in the studio in front of an imagined audience and film and record the gig.

And rather than draw up their own setlist, they had a vote via their website to let their fans decide what tracks they wanted to hear in a live setting.

Whether it was what the band was expecting is unknown, but seven of the tracks are from ‘The Great Cold Distance’ album from 2006 with just three from ‘City Burials’.

So, not a showcase for the new album then, but what it turns out to be is a magnificent retrospective involving twenty tracks from seven of the band’s back catalogue re-imagined in a live setting.

Engineered and mixed by long-term collaborator David Castillo, you get the distinctive feeling that the band have really thrown their heart and soul into this project in an effort to reward both long-time fans and us Johnny-come-lately’s who boarded the train late.

There is so much to admire here that trying to select highlights is an almost futile exercise.

I get the feeling that they have deliberately ‘toned-down’ many of the tracks to allow them to stand on their own merits and breathe rather than just demonstrate how loud they are.

There’s still plenty of ‘machine gun’ riffage – ‘July’, ‘Soils Song’, ‘My Twin’, ‘Evidence’, etc. and even the dreaded death growls occasionally, but there’s also so much of that melancholic, uplifting and atmospheric tunesmithery that Katatonia have, in recent years, made their own on the likes of ‘Into The White’, ‘Old Heart Falls’, the haunting ‘Unfurl’, ‘The Racing Heart’ and the emotive catharsis of ‘Lacquer’ from ‘City Burials’.

There is supreme musicianship throughout, with Anders Nyström’s guitar work exceptional, the drumming of Daniel Moilanen an exempli-gratia of light and shade and the voice of Jonas Renkse – which is the glue that holds it all together and gives Katatonia their almost unique sound.

This should keep long term fans happy until live music returns, will surprise newly-acquired fans that their back catalogue wasn’t all doom metal and will act as a perfect introduction to all those wanting to know what all the fuss is about.

It’s deserved fuss. This is simply superb.  *****

Review by Alan Jones

 


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