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Darkness Remains: Katatonia See In 25 Years With 'The Fall of Hearts'

Wednesday, 01 June 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Few bands have become synonymous with darkness quite like Katatonia. A lot of metal records sit on the gloomy end of the spectrum, but there’s a pervading melancholy to Katatonia’s music that has endured through line up changes and revised stylistic approaches.

Since forming a quarter of a century ago, the Swedish band have explored everything from death-flecked doom metal to Tool-esque alt wanderings and borderline progressive rock. No matter the genre, they’ve always attempted to convey a sense of despair and hopelessness through their music. Often quite literally.

For many artists, writing genuinely miserable music for more than a handful of albums would be too physically and emotionally draining. Katatonia have managed to do it for 10. The reason for their sustained passion can be broadly be attributed to the band’s two founding members: vocalist Jonas Renkse and multi-instrumentalist Anders Nyström.

Having abandoned death growls after two albums, Renske’s voice has long been the pivotal element in the band’s sound. His haunting delivery tends to twist even their more aggressive cuts into something more atmospheric in a manner that's not too dissimilar to Chino Moreno’s work with Deftones.

Where that band’s guitars sound colourful and brash, though, Katatonia draw from harsher Scandinavian influences. Nyström’s parts veer from soft, delicate and even jangly one minute to utterly destructive the next.

"It would be a lot more of a straightforward task to make the same album two or even three times, but each album deserves its own identity."

The band’s latest record, ‘The Fall of Hearts’, magnifies both elements and also introduces new textures and features. Produced by Renske and Nyström, the album feels closer to the work of long-time friends Opeth than anything else in their own canon.

“This is our most progressive album yet,” Nyström said. “It’s either this one or going all the way back to our first album for our most progressive release in terms of unconventional structures, lengthy tracks and ideas outside the box.

“We're now 10 albums in so it's getting really hard to push the bar by simultaneously writing better songs while avoiding repeating ourselves. That very tricky equation there is the biggest challenge we've ever faced.

“It would be a lot more of a straightforward task to make the same album two or even three times, but each album deserves its own identity, integrity and legacy, so we refuse to take the simple way out and just clone ourselves.”

It’s unsurprising that the band have headed in a direction that values songwriting and atmosphere over technique and energy. Now both 41, Nyström and Renske’s attitudes have demonstrably changed. While their overall outlook is no less morose, there’s been a gradual shift away from angst-ridden lyrics in favour of meditations on more universal themes.

Mid-2000s albums like ‘Viva Emptiness’ infamously featured various lines about “breaking vows” and “fucking lies”. ‘The Fall of Hearts’ goes much further, adamantly and chillingly predicting mankind’s downfall.

“It's hard to pinpoint and analyse how certain things happen and why things change,” Nyström said. “The only thing you have control over and power to do is to stay true to your heart and follow your gut feeling at the time and let that take you wherever it needs to go.

“We always write about dark subjects and touch upon the human aftermath related to that, but most of the time they aren't about one particular event or follow a continuous story. We give ourselves the liberty of using metaphors and symbolism to illustrate and capture an abstract feeling down into words, a poem or in our case, a lyric.

“Each album is a snapshot of your career and time in life and represents different abilities and visions, but also disabilities and broken dreams. This album is pretty much within the same walls Katatonia has always dwelt lyrically.”

What does a snapshot of Katatonia in 2016 look like? They’ve seen their fanbase gradually increase over the past few years, playing to audiences in Eastern Europe and South America for the first time.  

"​Each album is a snapshot of your career and time in life and represents different abilities and visions."

In terms of personnel, the band are on their fourth bassist, their second drummer (discounting Renske) and have recently recruited a new guitarist in Roger Öjersson. For all the assertions about continuity, the band have never been afraid to take risks and kick start the engine where necessary.

“Writing and listening to music is a blessing and that philosophy hasn’t changed,” Nyström said. “We will always have that no matter what we do. Recording and performing music is affected by the climate of the music industry and it has put some heavy spanners in the works. It’s hard to do this full time if you're on a low to mid professional level like us.

“I feel that with ‘The Fall of Hearts’ we’ve turned the page to a new chapter. This is our best one yet in terms both musically performance and musically. Line-up wise, we'd love for it to keep intact and cement itself in the future.”

Katatonia are proof that circumstances can change but your appetite doesn’t have to. ‘The Fall of Hearts’ sounds different to every other record the band have made and yet you couldn’t mistake them for anybody else.

Their music has a timeless quality, which explains why their influence now spans multiple generations of listeners. Unsurprisingly, when Nyström is asked if the band plan to play any older cuts his answer is vague. “It depends on what you mean by that,” he said. “Even albums like ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ are considered ‘old school’ by some these days. I guess it kind of indicates how much time can pass you by.”

‘The Fall of Hearts’ is out now on Peaceville Records.

Katatonia Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri October 21 2016 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

Click here to compare & buy Katatonia Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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