Album review: KATATONIA – City Burials

Katatonia - City Burials

Peaceville Records [Release date 24.04.20]

When, on the 28th of February 2020, I visited the “Gagarin 205” club for the purpose of attending what can only be described as an outstanding performance by the Prog Metal quintet Katatonia, never in a million years would have I imagined that a) this would, by the looks of it, be one of the last gigs I was to enjoy this year and b) less than two weeks later, I would find myself stranded in my flat, threatened by COVID-19 – a highly infectious disease that has so far claimed a substantial number of lives across the globe.

Now, the same Swedes whose varied musical palette painted the walls of the above-mentioned Athenian venue in what, at this moment in time, feels like a lifetime ago, are ready to break their four-year recording hiatus and present us with their twelfth studio offering entitled “City Burials”.

I know what you are thinking; is it wise to indulge in the music of a band like Katatonia when you are experiencing the effects of a month-long, government-imposed home-based isolation?

Having followed the band’s work since the early 90s, I can safely state that “City Burials” is one of the most fitting Katatonia records to indulge in during these trying times and reason behind such a strong statement lies is the album’s musical diversity. While featuring similar progressive ‘insecurities’ to those of its direct predecessor “The Fall Of Hearts”, “City Burials” flirts heavily with the type of no-frills/straight-impact guitar riffs that made 2003’s “Viva Emptiness” the classic gem we all know and love.

Jonas Renkse comes across as a more confident and diverse performer, Anders Nystrom seems to really be enjoying a great musical partnership with Tiamat guitarist Roger Ojersoon and the rhythm section of Daniel Moilanen (drums)/Niklas Sundin (bass) has produced the solid foundations that are truly needed in order to build such an impressive musical project

Floydian in its mood but infused with riffs whose thickness is capable of tearing down walls, “Heart Set To Divide” is as much a fitting introduction as it is a statement of intent. Filled with flamboyant guitar melodies and featuring vocal lines that are heavily influenced by the work of friends and fellow-countrymen Opeth,“Behind The Blood” is one of the album’s many highlights, as is the follow-up “Lacquer” – a four and a half minute composition that is based on a simple but truly passionate vocal performance and whose chorus and refrain are adorned by brilliantly-conceived orchestral parts.

Fairly easy to get into but filled with smart interchangeable rhythmical sections “Rein” is a composition which explains why Katatonia have been enjoying the support of magazines like Prog in recent years and the more uplifting, melody-driven “The Winter Of Passing” is followed by “Vanishers” – a slow, emotionally-charged musical piece that finds Jonas Renkse joining forces with a gifted female singer that listens to the name Anni Bernhard (Full Of Keys).

The second half of the album is every bit as impressive as the first! “City Glaciers” features a recurring guitar melody similar to those used by Polish prog metallers Riverside in their last few records and a piano melody whose emotional quality is simply to die for while the five minute “Flicker” finds the band further showcase its Prog pedigree through an array of simple-sounding but rhythmical challenging drum parts and solid bass lines. While “Lachesis” provides a short

piano-led musical soundscape, “Neon Epitaph” operates on an almost tribal repetitive theme capable of putting you in a state of trance if you become careless and drop your defenses. As for “Untrodden”, the album’s closing composition; well, Anders Nystrom has certainly left the best for last! A moody piano intro, expertly arranged supporting keyboard themes, deeply emotional layered vocal parts, flamboyant guitar solos…all the elements which characterize Katatonia’s style and sound are present in this astounding piece – both a celebration and a delight for fans of good quality music.

Coming up with a rating for “City Burials” has been more difficult than what one might think. I mean, what we have under observation here is the work of the same band that has been responsible for releasing genre-defining albums such as “Viva Emptiness” and “The Great Cold Distance”, right?

It was while contemplating the enormity of the task at hand that I realized what I knew all along; the only way to evaluate what was presented to me was not via the use of arguments based on logic but by using the same instincts that have explained and defined human behavior since time immemorial.

That is when I decided to close my eyes, drop all of my emotional defenses and completely surrendered to this album’s immense emotional power and compositional intellect. You may try as hard as you like to find something lacking in this album – in the end you will come to the same conclusion I did; what we are dealing with here is a flawless piece of work – one that both critics and fans of the band will refer to as a classic in years to come. Brilliant – just brilliant!  *****

Review by Ioannis (John) Stefanis

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