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Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts (Album Review)

Thursday, 09 June 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

It’s worthwhile to be sceptical when an artist describes a new project as their most progressive yet. It’s a satisfyingly vague term designed to imply development and reassure listeners, and indeed the artists themselves. When guitarist Anders Nyström dropped the P word in relation to Katatonia’s ‘The Fall of Hearts’, though, it made sense.

Depending on who you talk to, the Swedish metallers have long had a reputation for being Opeth’s mopey younger brother or Porcupine Tree’s head-banging cousin. But to call them an out-and-out progressive rock band has never felt right.

Their stretch of albums in the 2000s, from 2001’s ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ to 2009’s ‘Night is the New Day’, established the band as an entity quite distinct from their quasi-metal peers.

Though the band’s sound has gradually shifted from death-doom metal to atmospheric rock over the three decades they’ve been active, their thematic approach has remained relentlessly bleak.

Tracks often revolved around melodramatic choruses and jangly guitars soaked in reverb, with gothic piano phrases providing decoration. Each new album had its differences but accomplished the same goal: to evoke nihilism, darkness and despair in a way that is accessible.

Listening to ‘The Fall of Hearts’ for the first time, you could be forgiven for assuming that all that was gone. The tracks are generally longer and present a much wider palette of moods and themes. But, most noticeably of all, there’s also greater depth and maturity to the songwriting. 

This richness of ideas means it takes longer to appreciate the different textures and melodies used. Opener Takeover sets the tone, shifting between different sections so gradually that you have to remind yourself that you’re still listening to the same track. Cuts like Serein and Serac even provide an element of surprise as squealing riffs pounce out of nowhere and disrupt the smouldering intensity that’s been established. It might seem frustrating initially but it keeps you on your toes. 

The album’s structure is also imposing, with its mid-section constructed in a way that leaves little room for breath. Sanction and Last Song Before the Fade have the same swelling build-ups to forgettable choruses, while the array of sounds tends to blur together as the contrast between cold, minimalist themes and heavier sections is lost.

As much as dynamics are an occasional weakness, though, it’s more than made up for by compositional improvements. Shifts is one of the most stunning pieces in the band’s career, where sweeping synth washes provide a beautiful template as an arpeggiated guitar converses with delicate keys. It’s like the Katatonia of old but more tastefully framed.

Elsewhere, Old Heart Falls and Residual are as passionate as any of the band’s previous hook-heavy tracks but also have the poetic lyrics to authenticate that, something that was lacking on their more angst-ridden material. Each individual element has improved as well with the new line-up holding their own: the guitars shimmer, the drums are imaginative and ear-catching, and frontman Jonas Renske’s voice has become stronger and more resonant with age.

‘The Fall of Hearts’ is far less immediate than its predecessors, something that can be pinpointed all the way down to their use of augmented/diminished chords and complex structures. But Katatonia have embraced progressive rock in the truest sense by crafting a record that refuses to blurt out all its good ideas at once. While it lacks the raw power of ‘Viva Emptiness’ or ‘The Great Cold Distance’, it articulates the same emotions in a less shallow way. Even though they’re 10 albums deep, Katatonia are remarkably still improving.

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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