‘A winding trawl through myriad dark moods, at times supremely heavy, at others barely whispered, but always swathed in their own unique brand of somber atmospherics’ – 4/5 – Kerrang
‘Absolutely astonishing’ – 9/10 – Rock Sound
‘Make no mistake – this is a great album’ – Terrorizer
Hailed as one of the leaders of the death-doom genre alongside My Dying Bride & Paradise Lost, Sweden’s Katatonia have spent the last 25 years ever changing and evolving to become the much loved purveyors of dark progressive rock/metal we know today.
This year marks not only the band’s 25th anniversary but also 10 years since the release of their Peaceville album ‘The Great Cold Distance’. Now the band is set to re-issue this classic album on special edition CD and vinyl. Founding guitarist Anders Nyström comments:
“Looking back at our set lists from a historic perspective, it dawned on us that there’s been no other album from which we played more songs than ’The Great Cold Distance’, so in the light of its 10th anniversary this year, it’s with much pride and joy to announce the ultimate edition featuring all the scattered bits and pieces related to this album. “
Originally released in 2006, The Great Cold Distance, Katatonia’s seventh studio album, was recorded and mixed at Fascination Street, Örebro Sweden, produced by Nyström/Renkse on and co-produced, mixed & engineered by Jens Bogren & David Castillo. The album featured 3 singles, now classic Katatonia songs – “My Twin”, “July” and “Deliberation”. Vocalist Jonas Renkse, at the time of the album’s release stated: “While embracing this album one must know that it will only help to increase the coldness between us. It’s a devious life. And this is a soundtrack to it.”
The new 4 disc deluxe hardback 40 page book edition of the album, to be released on 20th January 2017, will include 3 bonus discs featuring b-sides and bonus songs, a new 5.1 remix of the album by Bruce Soord (Wisdom Of Crowds) and a live album of Katatonia playing ‘The Great Cold Distance’ in its entirety with the renowned Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra in Bulgaria, performed in September 2016. The design of this essential 10th anniversary edition has once again been taken care of by long time collaborator Travis Smith.
The double gatefold LP version of the original album is set for release on 9th December, and includes the b-sides & bonus songs. Both the black vinyl and limited edition red vinyl versions are available to pre-order now:
When 2016 draws to a close and I begin compiling my “best of the year list” one album that is definitely going to be near the top is ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, the quietly brilliant 10th album from Katatonia. It’s the “sleeper hit” of the year in my opinion. It’s not the most flamboyant release; it’s not aggressively pushing boundaries or showing off how technically proficient the band members are at every opportunity. Instead it’s an album of subtle nuance and variation, the sound of a band perfectly comfortable in their own skin continuing to evolve and improve along their already distinctive path.
‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is the first album of new studio material in 4 years and also marks the debut of a couple new members to the fold; guitarist Roger Ojersson and drummer Daniel Moilanen (who really makes his presence felt in the arrangements). In the intervening years since 2012’s ‘Dead End Kings’ the band has been focusing on stripping down their sound, first via the remix album ‘Dethroned & Uncrowned’ and secondly their live acoustic concert recording ‘Sanctitude’. The lessons learned from this approach have carried over to the new album, adding subtlety and space to the arrangements and allowing the new compositions to really breathe and flow. Katatonia’s compositions in the past were often more straight-ahead than others within the Prog Metal field, being primarily based off a standard verse-chorus-verse structure. ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ offers a much more impressionistic approach, the more fluid nature of the arrangements really showing off Jonas Renkse’s gorgeous melodies to greater and more dramatic effect.
(Photo by Alessandra Tolc)
Opening track Takeover is an excellent demonstration of how this new approach has been applied. The song starts abruptly without an intro, immediately dropping you into its melancholic setting. The rhythmic thrust of the song is understated, dreamlike; it creates the subtle impression of floating. This feeling remains even once the heavier guitars come into play around the 1-minute mark. There is something very “painterly” about the feel of this piece; it’s elusive, ethereal, like watercolors in varying shades of gray. It’s simultaneously lovely and haunting, the metallic elements used effectively to create a subdued feeling of menace lurking just below the surface. It’s a stunning beginning to the album and invites the listener to abandon their preconceived ideas and just let go, just experience it.
The unique feeling also presents itself on the more direct, mainstream songs on the album. The singles Serein and Old Hearts Fall are deceptively accessible, the melodies so inviting that the listener might not even notice that the underlying arrangement is still quite complex and unexpected. That is not an easy balance to strike for any band, especially in the Prog Metal genre, which is not exactly well renowned for subtlety. Yet even the heavier compositions on the album never lapse into the expected clichés, they never get as militaristic or bombastic as you expect them to. The heavy riffs are applied with the same level of care and precision as the more melodic sections.
(Photo by Sebastian Dominguez)
Katatonia is often mentioned along with Opeth when the discussion of Swedish Prog Metal comes up. JonasRenkse and Mikael Akerfeldt were roommates in the late 90s and remain best friends to this day. Mikael also contributed the harsh vocals to their classic early death-doom album ‘Brave Murder Day’. While there are similarities (especially in the approach to ballads) overall Opeth is a lot more extroverted in their approach and cover a lot more stylistic ground. There is an undeniable kinship between them however, which presents itself in a few occasions on ‘The Fall Of Hearts’. The beautiful acoustic-driven ballads Decima and Pale Flag show an affinity with Opeth’s ‘Damnation’ album and one of the albums heaviest tracks is Serac, which wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Watershed’. But in reality the main thing these bands have in common is they both have very distinct, identifiable personalities and they are both led by very gifted singer/songwriters.
‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is a long album (67 minutes not counting bonus tracks) and thus takes a little while to fully reveal itself, but it’s such a rewarding experience that the effort is more than repaid. I’m partial to the second half of the album, which gets a little darker, heavier and more complex yet never loses the melody and accessibility. The light/heavy dynamic is used to great effect on tracks like Last Song Before The Fade (my personal favorite), The Night Subscriber and the uncharacteristically extroverted Passer, which allows new guitarist Roger Ojersson a turn in the spotlight. It also features Shifts, one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I’ve heard this year in any genre.
While there are many albums from 2016 that have gotten more hype and publicity than ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, I’m not sure if many of them attain the artistic cohesiveness that Katatonia has achieved here. This album took me completely by surprise, slowly worked its magic on me over the course of several months until it became indispensible. Now hardly a day goes by where it doesn’t end up in my stereo at some point, still methodically revealing its charms, becoming ever more rewarding with each listen. The very definition of a “sleeper hit”.
2015 has been a retrospective year for Opeth. Their 25th anniversary tour was celebrated by adding a full performance of the 2005 album ‘Ghost Reveries’ in addition to their regular ‘Pale Communion’ set and the year closes out with a deluxe remixed reissue of their classic albums ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Damnation’.
Two albums that were recorded during the same sessions and intended for release together, but their record label at the time (Music For Nations) split them up and issued them 6 months apart. This reissue fixes that mistake and the new mixes from Steven Wilson (‘Damnation’) and Bruce Soord (‘Deliverance’) offer up a fresh perspective on this material, which was so important to the evolution of the band and what they’ve been able to accomplish in the ensuing years.
The creation of this double album was far from a painless process however…
Opeth was coming off their breakthrough release ‘Blackwater Park’, an album that finally opened the doors to the US market so expectations were very high. Mikael Akerfeldt remarks in the liner notes: “I remember that even though I was determined to write the heaviest record to date, I kept coming up with these beautiful snippets of acoustic music. It was disturbing. My muse wasn’t cooperating. Where’s the fucking metal?”
Mikael’s best friend Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) suggested that the answer was to record two albums; one heavy, one softer. Mikael latched onto the idea immediately but their record label took some convincing. The only way the label would agree to a double album was if the record only counted as a single release against their contract and if they recorded it in the same amount of time and on the same budget as a single release.
Despite only having three completed songs ready and a month to record the entire project, Mikael dove into writing and recording on the fly, often staying up all night writing and then recording the next day. To add to the stress of the situation, the first studio they booked was not well maintained and frequent equipment breakdowns quickly put them behind schedule.
They soldiered on, changed studios and completed recording of the basic tracks, but Mikael was utterly exhausted and called on his friend Steven Wilson (who had co-produced ‘Blackwater Park’) to assist them with finishing the project. Wilson would help to put the finishing touches on the ‘Deliverance’ half and then him and Mikael worked together to craft ‘Damnation’.
Steven contributed keyboards and backing vocals for both albums in addition to writing the lyrics for the song Death Whispered A Lullaby.
“Deliverance was always meant to be a dark and heavy record. I can’t remember why I wanted it to be, to be honest. At the time of writing the songs, I wasn’t listening to any music like that. I only played soft singer/songwriter stuff or progressive rock.
I can’t remember listening to any extreme forms of metal at all. In retrospect, I think I might have been afraid of losing touch with the form of music that had shaped the band in the first place.” – Mikael Akerfeldt
Based on the finished result, any fears Mikael may have had about losing touch with their heavy side were utterly unfounded. ‘Deliverance’ is one of their heaviest and most intense records; probably made even more so by the stressful circumstances that birthed it. It’s the perfect mirror image to ‘Damnation’; the stylistic breadth of Opeth’s ‘from a whisper to a scream’ approach on full display.
‘Deliverance’ is a fairly uncompromising listen for the most part, but it also contains many moments of beauty and progressive rock sophistication. A Fair Judgment is my personal favorite track from these sessions, a multi-layered epic that begins with Steven Wilson’s plaintive solo piano intro and then ebbs and flows in dramatic intensity for the remaining 9 minutes. Mikael sticks to his clean voice throughout (at this stage getting more assured with each album) and the song also features some fine guitar solos and a nice doomy outro.
The title track deserves special mention as well as it’s arguably the best prog-metal arrangement in their discography. If I could only pick one song to demonstrate their breadth of sound it would be this one. Military-precision death metal and delicate acoustic passages flow effortlessly into one another creating dramatic tension and release throughout the 13 ½ minute composition. The wonderfully hypnotic repeated rhythmic figure during the ending segment is thrilling, I can think of few bands that could pull it off. It may be a cliché but this song is definitely a jaw-dropper.
Bruce Soord’s meaty remix of the album really brings out the dynamics of the original recording and is quite different in character to the original mix. The most noticeable difference is in the drums and the low end. Bruce removed the triggered “clicks” on the kick drums that were omnipresent during that era and that suddenly allows the bottom end to breathe, the kicks now push massive amounts of air. The original mix had very little low-end definition, now it will rattle the rafters.
He has also used a wider stereo spread and more three-dimensional positioning of the vocal tracks and lead and acoustic guitar parts, giving the entire album increased depth and presence. While it’s still a fairly compressed sounding recording this version is a dramatic overall improvement and sounds fantastic in the 24bit/96khz stereo mix on the DVD. It can be cranked loudly with no discernable distortion.
“Damnation” is a happier memory, even if it really shouldn’t be, as its writing and recording was almost equally difficult. I guess it was a more interesting album to make, since the music/direction/everything else about Opeth was moving and progressing in actual real time. In the same pace as the music was created. Quite odd, when you think about it now.” – Mikael Akerfeldt
It’s going to sound like hyperbole but I honestly believe ‘Damnation’ is one of the most unique and beautiful albums of the past decade. Opening track Windowpane was my first exposure to Opeth and it just sounded utterly timeless and classic from that very first listen. It’s not often that I hear a single song that starts an obsession, but that’s exactly what happened in this case.
‘Damnation’ is 44 minutes of melodic progressive rock perfection, one that acknowledges Mikael’s many musical influences while still sounding unmistakably like Opeth. The band responds brilliantly to the new challenges introduced by these arrangements and each member puts in a career-best performance. Special mention goes to Martin Mendez (bass) and Martin Lopez (drums) for their deft rhythm section work, I can think of few metal bands that could so convincingly alternate from the delicate swing of a track like To Rid The Disease to the full-on metallic assault of Master’s Apprentices.
Steven Wilson provides an array of classic prog keyboard sounds to the recording and would inspire Mikael to expand Opeth’s lineup to feature a full-time keyboardist from this point forward.
Steven Wilson’s remix stays true to the character of his original mix from 2002 while bringing out even more depth and detail to the intricate arrangements. It’s not quite as dramatic of an improvement as ‘Deliverance’, but ‘Damnation’ was a good sounding album to begin with; now it sounds phenomenal. It’s an essential upgrade.
Being able to experience both of these albums together, as they were intended, really helps illustrate what an important stylistic step they were for the band. ‘Damnation’ allowed Mikael to fully explore his progressive rock side without being restricted by stylistic concerns and that freedom carried onto his writing on subsequent albums. ‘Deliverance’ would simultaneously close one chapter of their career (the 4-piece lineup) while pointing toward the expanded creative direction they would follow on ‘Ghost Reveries’, ‘Watershed’ and beyond.
For a deeper understanding of this material and the circumstances surrounding the recording sessions I highly recommend picking up the DVD set ‘Lamentations’.It features a documentary film made during the recording of the albums with interviews of the band and Steven Wilson. The concert recording features 2 sets, the first set including the entire ‘Damnation’ album and the second set featuring tracks from ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Blackwater’ Park. The concert was filmed at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2003.