01. The Parting
02. The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here
04. The Racing Heart
08. Unto You
10. First Prayer
11. Dead Letters
As any fan of metal music should know, darkness can be a beautiful thing; with this firmly in mind Katatonia have continuously set out to carve beautiful and melodic albums that are deeply entrenched in the gloomier side of the human subconscious. Through a heavy reliance on imagery that calls to mind thoughts of isolation, depression, death, and loss, the band capture a spirit of fear and beauty while at the same time melodic albums that are also deeply entrenched in the gloomier side of the human subconscious. Relying heavily on imagery that calls to mind thoughts of isolation, depression, death, and loss, the band capture a spirit of fear and beauty while at the same time continuously furthering themselves from the metal template, much like their Swedish peers, Opeth — another band whose formative years were rooted in death metal. Unlike Opeth, however, Katatonia have taken a decidedly more subtle and transitional route to developing their sound; slowing changing, adding, and subtracting elements from each release to create something that is entirely their own, as opposed to the jarring and slightly unsettling abandonment of metal qualities as on Opeth’s latest release, Heritage.
With Dead End Kings, Katatonia have put an increased emphasis on the softer elements of their sound, as opposed to the heavier stylings of their early years; there is an abundance of wonderful piano and keyboard melodies that take center stage and override the guitar; perfectly coalescing with the vocals to create a much deeper and noticeable level of ambient sounds than what was present on Night is the New Day. Songs like ‘The Parting’, ‘The One You Are Looking For is Not Here’, and ‘The Racing Heart’ are all tracks that lean more towards the mellower side, integrating the heavy doom riffs, but not allowing them to take the spotlight. Each one vying for the coveted award of “most depressing song of 2012″.
Although, the metal aspects are diminishing with each release — ‘Buildings‘ fittingly towers menacingly above the crowd at the half-way point in the album as the one truly metal song among the bunch — Katatonia still create “heavy” albums; thematically, atmospherically, and of course, sonically. Even with the addition of softer sounds, the band still blend their crushing doom riffs from their earlier years beautifully with the haunting piano and vocal melodies. The guitars are rarely aggressive, yet always maintain a certain edge that conveys a genuine sense of thickness and density. The bass forms a bulky and threatening foundation that gives the album an almost impenetrable “wall of sound” quality, but also occasionally peaks forth and reminds the listener that it too is capable of some dazzling feats. The drumming, while not overly technical or exhibitionist, is one of the highlights of this album; a subtle yet driving force for every song, bringing forth a steadily somber feeling to the listener. Daniel Liljekvist has a wonderful ability to bring out a rich tone and timbre from his kit that will continuously catch your ear and guide you through the music.
One of the two key components to Katatonia is vocalist Jonas Renkse — the other being guitarist and main compositional force, Anders Nyström. Over the years Renkse has developed an instantly recognizable sound to his voice that adds innumerable amounts of depth to the music of this band, and often times it is hard to notice anything but his gentle melodies. While his voice is beautiful, and distinct, it is becoming quite apparent that, unlike the rest of the band, he’s not very interested in variety, or expanding his take on delivery. Imagine his tone and cadence from Night is the New Day, and that is exactly what you will get on Dead End Kings.
It is hard to take this as a fault, as his voice lends itself immaculately to the music at hand, but one can’t help but wonder what else this man can do with his voice, when taking into consideration the continuing expansion of the band’s sound. Who knows what kind of masterpiece this band could secure in their catalog given some experimentation on Renkse’s part. In fact, one of the biggest highlights on this album is when there is a change of pace in the vocal department, when The Gathering vocalist Silje Wergeland joins Renkse in a beautiful vocal harmony on the song ‘The One you Are Looking For Is Not Here’.
Future classics abound on Dead End Kings, and you’ll be hard pressed to take this album out once it starts spinning, even after several playthroughs. Many people may find fault with this release, considering its similarities to the band’s previous effort, Night is the New Day, but hopefully the majority will look at Dead End Kings for what it is; not a copy or imitation of previous works, but a refinement and a slow evolution for a band continually working to hone their distinct sound. This is the product of a band going forth into their third decade of hardship and labor and defining what kind of music they want to make. This is an album like every album that the band has put out since the very beginning; an album that is filled to the brim with emotional and dynamic songs, an album that sparks the mind and soothes the heart. While it is not the biggest advancement for the band, it is several steps in the right direction, and is another wonderful addition in this band’s growing catalog.