Katatonia

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Jhva Elohim Meth... the Revival

Katatonia - Jhva Elohim Meth... the Revival ©1993 Vic Records
1. Midwinter Gates (Prologue)
2. Without God
3. Palace of Frost
4. The Northern Silence
5. Crimson Tears (Epilogue)

Katatonia's first recorded effort was a demo with the mysterious title Jhva Elohim Meth, featuring such mysterous band members as Lord Seth and Blackheim. As we all know now, Lord Seth and Blackheim were Jonas Renske and Anders Nyström respectively and this little endeavour was the beginning of their first phase of existence as a doom metal band. The demo was repackaged about a year after its initial release with ...The Revival tacked onto the title. Essentially the EP is nothing more than three meandering, tortured doom metal with an intro and outro acting as bookends. It features the production talents of a certain Dan Swanö, who has occasionally twiddled the studio knobs for a couple heavy metal acts over the years.

The EP sounds very much like the band's debut record, Dance of December Souls. At that point in their existence, Katatonia knew what they were going for and aptly expressed themselves on the early tracks. The songs are slow paced, brooding and rely on despondent sounding guitar. Compared to some of the other doom metal acts that were also emerging in the early 90s, Katatonia seemed more developed in their sound than, say, My Dying Bride (who I still think have no idea what they're trying to express, but it doesn't seem to stop them from making new albums). They rejected the soaring melodic vocals of the Candlemass/Solitude Aeternus camp for the tortured rasps of Lord Seth. Apparently being depressed in Sweden meant you did bad things to your vocal cords.

I've never been one hundred percent sold on the very early Katatonia, who seemed to fully realize where they wanted to go on Brave Murder Day and fully committed themselves by 1998's Discouraged Ones. However, for the purists of the more extreme doom metal style (with just a touch of grace), Jhva Elohim Meth...The Revival may be of interest. Otherwise, the EP is more of a historical footnote for where Katatonia originally began.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/2010

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Dance Of December Souls

Katatonia - Dance Of December Souls ©1993 House Of Kicks/No Fashion
1. Seven Dream Souls (intro)
2. Gateways Of Bereavement
3. In Silence Enshrined
4. Without God
5. Elohim Meth
6. Velvet Thorns (of Drynwhyl)
7. Tomb Of Insomnia
8. Dancing December

Be sure you've taken your anti-depressants for this one. Various adjectives pop to mind when listening to Katatonia: morose, gloomy, bummed out. All of them perfectly describe the mood the band is striving for throughout this disc. Whether they succeed varies from song to song, but on a whole it is a good album. The first section of the album from the first track to "Without God" does move a bit slowly, relying on thunderingly slow tempos and painfully tortured vocals straight from the book of despair. I do, however, have to say guitarist Blackheim has a remarkable ability to ooze powerful emotion using some very simple solos and riff patterns. Less is more. Everything here has that epic tragic feel, especially "Tomb of Insomnia". That particular track is especially moving, using various passages and moods to really swoop the listener up. Definitely a recommended release for anyone who even slightly likes doom metal.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/1998

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Brave Murder Day

Katatonia - Brave Murder Day ©1997 Century Media
1. Brave
2. Murder
3. Day
4. Rainroom
5. 12
6. Endtime
7. Funeral Wedding
8. Dancing December
9. For Funerals To Come
10. Epistel

Dwelling in the same housing project as Opeth, Katatonia takes that general sound (y'know, epic melodic black metal hybrid) and moves it more into the progressive gothic area. Not that this makes any particular sense. Overall, the disc really reminds me of Opeth, but that's by default since Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth provides his distinctive voice to the album. (For the record, normal singer Renske was unable to do his scream thing during the recording sesson and good ol' Mikael aided his friends.) However, Katatonia's songs tend to be shorter--not that this is surprising--and with a tad more gothic influence. The guitar lines tend to be simple arrangements that use the "less is more" approach. "Brave" and "Murder" are both examples of that, while "Day" is a very odd detour into true gothic land with clean guitars and Renske's clean vocals. (While it is the least in step with their style, the song is a favorite of mine on the CD.) "Rainroom" resumes the normal Katatonia style and is another great slab of heavy guitars and working into a great climatic chant. The next two songs are a bit plodding for my tastes. However, the CD bonus of their older EP shows they were well on their way into progressing their sound even then. Very smart songwriting throughout. Katatonia may not be as familiar as the leaders of the "atmospheric black metal bands" (that little ring that includes Rotting Christ, Alastis, Opeth, Samael, among others), but you can tell that they're onto something with this album.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/1998

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Sounds Of Decay EP

Katatonia - Sounds Of Decay EP ©1997 AvantGarde Music
1. Nowhere
2. At Last
3. Inside The Fall

This short three song EP marked the end of Katatonia Mark II. Originally Katatonia was a ominously repressive doom-death band that released the very morose and harsh Dance of December Souls in 1993 before vanishing for awhile. In 1997, they resurfaced with the more fluid Brave Murder Day that just so happened to feature the mighty Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth providing vocals. Here on Sounds of Decay, Mikael guests once more to help close out this short little phase of the Kata-career before the band vanished into their bizarre morose gothorama stage. All three songs presented here are very much in the same vein as Brave Murder Day, with Blackheim's strumalong signiture guitar providing the base and Mikael's force of the netherworld vocals giving this music a very primal edge. As with Katatonia of any era, Blackheim's ability to take simple riff patterns and match them with well implemented leads and solos put this band into the forefront. Thus, it's easy to recommend this EP for anyone who liked Brave Murder Day or want to hear a more streamlined version of the exceptional music Opeth creates.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/1999

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Discouraged Ones

Katatonia - Discouraged Ones ©1998 AvantGarde Music
1. I Break
2. Stalemate
3. Deadhouse
4. Relention
5. Cold Ways
6. Gone
7. Last Resort
8. Nerve
9. Saw You Drown
10. Instrumental
11. Distrust

Admittedly this album flew over my head for the longest time after I purchased it around the time of its release in 1998. Discouraged Ones marked the first full album featuring Jonas Renske performing "clean" vocals. This should have come as no surprise as Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt had performed all the raspy vocals on the band's previous release, Brave Murder Day and its companion EP, Sounds of Decay. Regardless, it took quite some time for the excellence of Discouraged Ones to settle in. Today this album stands as a remarkable fresh rebirth for an already wildly unique and identifiable band.

Continuing the drifting, repetitive and seductive riffing style and melancholy moods of Brave Murder Day, the stark desolation of Discouraged Ones tears away the veils that obscured the band's core sound on earlier albums, placing it directly in front of the listener. It is as though the band removed all their masks and encumbering costumes to place themselves naked in front of all their listeners for intense personal scrutiny. The music is the soundtrack of a man facing severe self-introspection, forced to confront his own worst traits. This might be the album you play at 3 A.M., when you cannot fall asleep because you are confronting your worst insecurities and shortcomings. Katatonia somehow captured a true sense of desparation and despair without resorting to any sort of gimmicky goth brooding or overtly forced dramaticism. Rather, the simplicity of the band's style somehow transcends all that for a completely unique style that the band will forever be noted for.

While at first the strange, emotionally drained vocals of Jonas Renske may put a listener off, this album will grow on you over time with each and every listen. Discouraged Ones acts as the second half of a blueprint that has become Katatonia's core sound (Brave Murder Day acts as the first half) and set this band in motion to hopefully become one of the premier acts in the music world, period.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2001


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Saw You Drown EP

Katatonia - Saw You Drown EP ©1998 AvantGarde Music
1. Saw You Drown
2. Nerve
3. Quiet World
4. Scarlet Heavens

As the precursor to the full length Discouraged Ones that showcased the "new" Katatonia style, Saw You Drown was a highly effective EP that succienctly summarized the statement the band was attempting to make. The basic impetus to Katatonia's style is the certain guitar style that Blackheim plays on the band's work. Though Renske's vocals changed to a more brooding, sorrowful style, the approach musically is very much the same as Brave Murder Day, which remains the band's strongest work to day. The EP shares two tracks with Discouraged Ones, "Saw You Drown" and "Nerve", as well as two non-album tracks. "Quiet World" is much softer than one might expect from the band, but the truly pensive nature of the song works well. The album closer, "Scarlet Heavens", features I believe either Dan Swano or Mikael Akerfeldt singing clean vocals and is a great song, even though it is around ten minutes long. Saw You Drown is certainly an excellent EP that actually surpasses the intention of Discouraged Ones thus making it worth the search.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/1999

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Tonight's Decision

Katatonia - Tonight's Decision ©1999 Peaceville
1. For My Demons
2. I Am Nothing
3. In Death, A Song
4. Had To (leave)
5. This Punishment
6. Right Into The Bliss
7. No Good Can Come Of This
8. Strained
9. A Darkness Coming
10. Nightmares By The Sea
11. Black Session

Tonight's Decision continues the direction Katatonia have pursued since Saw You Drown, with the band's gothic elements now completely overwhelming any traces of their metal past. Ordinarily, I'd be satisfied with Katatonia's latest, but when compared to new albums by My Dying Bride and Opeth, and in light of the trio's earlier works, Tonight's Decision comes off as a slightly disappointing listen. The album isn't bad, not by a long shot, but the sad, depressed feeling that was Katatonia's hallmark is strikingly absent this time around. And frankly, a Katatonia without the feeling is a dull Katatonia.

The tracks, for the most part, are straightforward gothic rock/metal songs, so don't expect too many surprises or deviations from the band's standard formula of minimalist rhythms and minor key melodies. Despite a few lags, the album is a fairly consistent listen, with choice cuts including "For My Demons" and "Right into the Bliss." They even cover the Jeff Buckley song "Nightmares by the Sea." The vocalist, Jonas Renske, paints a lyrical picture of a man filled with remorse and regret, vainly wishing that he could turn back the clock and relive his life. Simple, yet meaningful words and vague, symbolic imagery convey the character's inner demons vividly. Jonas's singing also deserves accolades, though it is somewhat of an acquired taste and not universally appreciated. But vocals and lyrics are only two ingredients in the songwriting recipe; the music fails to measure up to the yardstick set by themselves and others. While many people have critically acclaimed this release, I for one can not find in this CD that special spark that makes, for instance, My Dying Bride's newest a modern-day classic. I never thought I'd say these words, but Katatonia have made an inferior album in Tonight's Decision.

**After giving this album a half year to sink in, I've come to appreciate Tonight's Decision more and more. However, I have decided to leave this review in its original draft, for "historical" purposes mostly. A word of advice: this album, as with other Katatonia releases, may require some time to fully appreciate it. As a final note, the photos inside the booklet are simply gorgeous.

Review by Jeffrey Shyu

Review date: 11/1999

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Review #2:

When I first bought Discouraged Ones, my major complaint was that Katatonia's new direction didn't seem to have a compass and map out, causing a whole lot of wandering on the album. But as with all snap decisions in record reviews, my initial apathy towards Discouraged Ones gave way to a dawning realization that Katatonia hadn't strayed far from their sound at all and in fact were only honing it. In other words, given a few months and a bit of time, I "got" the album. So now with Tonight's Decision, Katatonia has helpfully put together an album that overcomes the initial listen flaws of Discouraged Ones and just absolutely works all the way through. Better yet, each consecutive listen just improves my overall opinion of the album. The first area of great improvement is in Renske's vocals. His command of clean vocals and strong, morose melodies is much better throughout Tonight's Decision and rather than the bummed out feeling of the previous record, he actually conveys the deep depression Katatonia's music is supposed to have. "Strained" and "No Good Can Come of This" are both remarkable in melody. As expected, Anders Nyström is still churning out those simple, repetitive, yet emotional riffs. It takes only one chord on the opening track to hear that trademark Katatonia sound. His ability to continue writing essentially the same type of riffs as he ws doing years ago, yet still sound fresh and new, is admirable. Tonight's Decision is the record that captures the ring Discouraged Ones was attempting to grab. It reestablishes the band as the premiere glum-metal band by simply being honest and well-written. So put down this magazine (wait...wrong medium) and rush to your local CD store and demand a copy or you'll shed tears all over his nice new stock. There aren't many better albums out right now.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2000

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Last Fair Deal Gone Down

Katatonia - Last Fair Deal Gone Down ©2001 Peaceville
1. Dispossession
2. Chrome
3. We Must Bury You
4. Teargas
5. I Transpire
6. Tonight's Music
7. Clean Today
8. The Future Of Speech
9. Passing Bird
10. Sweet Nurse
11. Don't Tell A Soul

Last Fair Deal Gone Down finds Katatonia now three albums deep into their "Phase III" sound and slowly but surely refining the concepts and style unveiled on 1998's Discouraged Ones. 1999's Tonight's Decision was a much more immediate and instantly impressive release than its predecessor, although Discouraged One still tends to impress me the most over time. Last Fair Deal Gone Down, meanwhile, is both a tenative leap into new possibilities in the band's music while still being firmly anchored to their now-trademark sound.

Most notably, vocalist Jonas Renske sounds much, much more confident in delivering his intensely doldrums-drenched singing. This man could take on a They Might Be Giants song and make it sound like the most sullen, wretched piece of music around. All this without resorting to death grunting, as well. The twin guitar magic of Anders Nystrom and Fred Norrman still retain that remarkably identifiable Katatonia sound while veering off into occasional new territory throughout the album. Certain songs, such as "Teargas" or "Tonight's Music", could easily be derived from Tonight's Decision. However, more unusual approaches such as the slightly electronically tinged "We Must Bury You" prove Katatonia is going to look from side to side of their chosen path from time to time and offer refreshing moments of honest progression in their music.

Between Renske's truly unhappy vocal capabilities, the smart and catchy in a morose way music, Katatonia should again expand their horizons. Fans of The Cure or similarly emotionally wrought bands could easily find themselves bumming on Katatonia's trip as easily as their favorite gothy bands. This is what you might call the doom metal album for those who don't care for metal or doom, but like the sad feeling behind it. Moreover, fans who have been able to follow the band's caravan from Discouraged Ones on shall not be thrown for any sort of loop. Last Fair Deal Gone Down is a strong album that offers both slow, tempered growth and familiarity with a truly identifiable sound.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2001

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Teargas EP

Katatonia - Teargas EP ©2001 Peaceville
1. Teargas
2. Sulfur
3. March 4

Living up to their reputation of releasing mandatory EPs between full lengths, Katatonia's Teargas EP is a very tasty teaser to their Last Fair Deal Gone Down. As with Sounds of Decay and Saw You Drown, the unreleased tracks are very noteworthy and hardly throwaway pieces that weren't good enough to make the full length release. Teargas EP offers "Teargas" as a glimpse at Last Fair Deal... while "Sulfur" and "March 4" are two solid numbers that fit very well into the current Katatonia scheme of things. "Sulfur", in particular, is a wonderful number that has a very lush, layered atmosphere complete with excellent clean and acoustic guitars. "March 4" is a bit more aggressive, louder number that still has the signature Katatonia malaise and discontent intact. As a result, these two excellent songs make this brief, three song release something Katatonia fans will want to search out. Hopefully more copies of this were pressed and it won't become like the hopelessly coveted and impossibly rare Saw You Drown EP from a few years ago.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2001

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Tonight's Music EP

Katatonia - Tonight's Music EP ©2001 Peaceville
1. Tonight's Music
2. Help Me Disappear
3. Oh How I Enjoy The Light

Tonight's Music is a brief, three song single (or EP, as the record label would like you to think, so that you'll feel more justified in plunking down some bucks for a short amount of music) derived from the Last Fair Deal Gone Down CD. Katatonia, much like their spiritual twin Tori Amos (yes, I am stretching things greatly with that), have a reputation for putting out singles and/or EPs with a healthy amount of unreleased tracks and good B-sides. Tonight's Music is not an exception. "Help Me Disappear" and "O How I Enjoy the Light" are both pretty good tunes, completely fitting into the mood captured on Last Fair Deal Gone Down. Katatonia had certainly developed a distinct sound of their own by this point, with Jonas Renske's despondent vocals creating the band's depressive gray metal approach. Tonight's Music is a fair deal for completists, making it a worthwhile addition to the rather lengthy Katatonia back catalogue.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2008

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Viva Emptiness

Katatonia - Viva Emptiness ©2003 Peaceville
1. Ghost Of The Sun
2. Sleeper
3. Criminals
4. A Premonition
5. Will I Arrive
6. Burn The Remembrance
7. Wealth
8. One Year From Now
9. Walking By A Wire
10. Complicity
11. Evidence
12. Omerta
13. Inside The City Of Glass

Katatonia finally did it. They changed their style significantly.

I shall now step back and watch the hubbub rise from the peanut gallery. "But, John," they are now shouting, "they changed a lot! We can't keep up!"

Now, kids, sit back and let's discuss the evolution of Katatonia. Granted, the band made their biggest stylistic change from their debut, Dance of December Souls, to its eventual 1997 follow-up, Brave Murder Day. But since 1997, Katatonia has stuck to a very identifiable sound, only altering the vocal approach and simply refining the guitars along the way. Significantly, the past three releases have stuck to a particular formula that has essentially run its entire course. That's why Viva Emptiness required the band to finally take a major step with their music.

Upon first listen, it's easy to tell that Viva Emptiness is a stepping stone in their evolution. It's not the most immediate of records nor will it stand as their greatest achievement. However, years from now, one will look back and see how the band got from point A to point B through this release. The most notable change is within how the band approaches the guitars. Rather than the signature Blackheim riffing that has been with the band for four albums, the guitarists are taking on new patterns, sounds, effects and riffing styles in order to vary the music. At the core, you still have Jonas Renske's morose vocals, which continually improve with each new release. I still maintain that he is one of the very few singers in the world who can sound entirely depressed just by singing the first word to the first song on the record. A thousand goth singers imitating Peter Murphy could never approach his authentic sadness. Katatonia seems to realize this and are tailoring their songs to work around his melodies. There is a bit more aggression in many of the songs, carrying the band away from the tendency to sound the same on every song (a common complaint about the past two albums). Most importantly, the arrangements of the songs, as well inclusion of a more varied guitar approach, lead the music to work. I get the impression that the band's best material still is in the future, but Viva Emptiness grows on you with each listen.

Some fans may not grasp the array of subtle changes on this album, but as I've said over and over, you just have to keep plugging away for the rewards. I will stop short of declaring this to be the finest Katatonia moment yet, but in the grand scheme of things, Viva Emptiness is still one of the better records of the year and required for Katatonia fans.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2003

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The Great Cold Distance

Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance ©2006 Peaceville
1. Leaders
2. Deliberation
3. Soil's Song
4. My Twin
5. Consternation
6. Follower
7. Rusted
8. Increase
9. July
10. In the White
11. The Itch
12. Journey Through Pressure

As one might surmise from my musings about Katatonia over the years, this is a band I've always held in high regard. Their transition from black/doom metal to their very own particular blend of shoegazer rock meeting metal has never left me feeling high and dry. However, that said, The Great Cold Distance has been one CD that has remained somewhat aloof for me. Despite containing a few very strong songs, there just seems to be something rather cold, if you will, about this particular release.

For me, the band peaked with Last Fair Deal Gone Down and its followup, Viva Emptiness, was good but showing signs of atrophied creativity. The Great Cold Distance suffers from the same tendencies to stick to their formula and not quite ever challenge themselves. Katatonia still displays the ability to craft a good tune, as "My Twin" or "July" demonstrate. In fact, if I hear the songs from this album individually, I rather enjoy them, but I've found this a more difficult album to sit through from start to finish. Despite a cohesive identity, this album somehow sidesteps being seamless for its duration. Upon realizing that, The Great Cold Distance appears to be more of a collection of unattached songs rather than an album conceived through a sustained burst of songwriting creativity.

Obviously, this is not a bad album, but it is one that I rank lower on the Katatonia Heirarchy of Album Awesomeness. The band has taken somewhat of a longer break since this album's release in 2006, which hopefully will find them rediscovering the magic that made them special in the first place.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2009

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Night is the New Day

Katatonia - Night is the New Day ©2009 Peaceville
1. Forsaker
2. The Longest Year
3. Idle Blood
4. Onward Into Battle
5. Liberation
6. The Promise of Deceit
7. Nephilim
8. New Night
9. Inheritance
10. Day and Then the Shade
11. Departer

After a bit of a hiatus following The Great Cold Distance, Katatonia finally resurfaces with Night is the New Day. However, despite the passage of three years since the last studio album, Katatonia hasn't particularly done a lot to reinvent themselves. The band sticks to their distinguishable brand of melancholic, pensive gray metal, merely adding an extra layer of morose moods and despondent. In some places, the band replaces dejection with discouragement. Careful listeners may detect a hint of forlorn alongside glum. I mostly noticed the woebegone.

The reality about Katatonia is that they're simply unable to do anything except this sort of music. Jonas Renske's singing voice doesn't exactly suggest detours into an upbeat, yo-ho-ho They Might Be Giants sort of tune at any point. Ever. Night is the New Day sticks to the Katatonia formula, though they inject it with some layers of electronics and keyboard orchestration here and there. There's less emphasis on their doom metal roots than ever before, but at the same time it's hardly a major departure from anything they've done in the last decade.

Unfortunately, much like The Great Cold Distance, this new album lacks some of the band's signature great songs that helped propel earlier releases to international noteriety. While Night is the New Day is listenable and well recorded, it's hard to truly get into many of these songs. They're decent, but not nearly as compelling as one might hope. I found it difficult to really get into the last album and so far my attempts to immerse myself here haven't exactly been overly successful either. The album comes across as utterly Katatonia-esque, yet moderately distressing because it seems like there's just something missing. I have no doubts that most long term fans have already gotten a copy of this, but I do not foresee it becoming an upper echelon Katatonia release.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 11/2009

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