We all have our guilty pleasures. For example, I’m sure there’s a metalhead out there somewhere getting into his sticker-covered automobile, yet pumping Counting Crows’ August and Everything After. That’s why, for this week’s Retrospective, I chose to write about Katatonia and their mournful, pop-inspired classic Night is the New Day—an album so great that it fulfills the desire for guilty pleasure music while still maintaining all your credibility as a metalhead. So move over Hanson and America, make room for Mattias and Fredrik Norrman.
I don’t compare Katatonia to a guilty pleasure as a slight to them—half of the band is also in Bloodbath, Mikael Akerfeldt did the harsh vocals on their early material; they have plenty of cred in the heavier scenes—rather, I merely mean to compliment the band for being able to make music that is wholly pleasing to almost any listener while still maintaining an edge. I mean, who can listen to this album and not question why bands like Nickelback, Creed and Staind have become popular in this world while Katatonia remains, at least in North America, a niche interest? Try and tell me that songs like “The Longest Year” or “The Promise of Deceit” are not Top 40 hits on any hard rock station in North America. You can’t. Because they absolutely are and absolutely should be.
The album itself employs a bunch of pop production aspects such as doubling the rhythm guitar with an acoustic guitar. This is a trick used by the likes of John Mayer to thicken the mix when producing whatever it is that he produces. Producer/guitarist Anders Nyström used this effect to perfection throughout Night is the New Day on tracks like “Onward into Battle,” “Idle Blood” and “Inheritance.” The album feels full, rounded and extra sorrowful despite the fact that you can barely hear the effect. It’s touches like this that make Night is the New Day an absolutely timeless piece.
Another aspect of the album that I find mystifying is how organically North American it sounds, lyrics included, despite Katatonia being from Sweden. For example, on songs like “Day and then Shade” vocalist Jonas Renkse sings about freedom, treason, churches and mountains—how much more American can you get? More so than just the lack of Renkse singing with any accent at all, the flow, the feeling and the struggles—while being absolutely human—seem almost as whiny, contrite and egocentric as all American children.
There is also an excess of strings, keyboards and other symphonic effects effortlessly woven into the record throughout. “Idle Blood” opens with a mournful string procession that then floats seamlessly underneath the track itself as it develops. Strings also permeate the heavier tracks like “Liberation” in which staccato notes on the violin only serve to increase the intensity. Another effect is the electronic/sampled drum sounds. A drummer friend of mine simply can’t stand these effects, but to me, it really ties the album together. The samples, much like the acoustic guitars, thicken the mix and make Night is the New Day feel like the whole album is being played by a massive symphony.
Katatonia paved the way for bands ditching pure death metal, adding melody and then ditching melodic death metal to become some sort of…almost pop act. They’ve created a sound that spews forth from the speakers as a soundtrack behind a film. The songs are emotional, lively and situationally appropriate. Take a listen at the link below and please, let me know your thoughts on this one. For me, this album fulfills a great need I had for a while: to revisit the more sorrowful side of pop music from the early 90’s. Nowadays, I can just sit back and throw on a Katatonia album.