The Nine Circles ov… Katatonia

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Katatonia has long been one of the most important bands in my expansive library. There is just something about their gothic approach to doom and death metal that I find absolutely intoxicating. Equal parts melodic, dark, and depressing, Katatonia have constructed an impressive catalog of music that dates back to the early 1990’s. While it has been over three years since Dead End Kings dropped, the recent news that a new album is in the works is as good of an excuse as any to revisit some of my personal favorites from the past couple of decades.

With nine studio albums (ten if you count Dethroned & Uncrowned), three live albums, and eight EPs dating back to 1993, there is no shortage of material to work with. Fortunately (I think), Katatonia manages to leave a lasting impression with each release. From the heavier early days of Dance of December Souls and Brave Murder Day all the way up through the lighter (yet equally somber) years that have continued through Dead End Kings, there is something uniquely memorable about each release. As such, it made coming up with nine tracks that stand above the rest an incredible pain in the ass. The fact is, I can return to any of these albums on any given day and they will have the same impact on me as they did when I heard them for the first time. Regardless of all that, here are nine Katatonia tracks that stand out just a little more.

“Lethean” (Dead End Kings, 2012)

For the sake of using their present day sound as a point of reference, I want to start with the most impressive track off the most recent album. “Lethean” is a bit on the heavier side for this particular collection of songs, especially the chorus. And there is just something incredible about how Jonas Renske’s voice layers over the weighted chords in these same sections, giving the track a nice atmosphere. Spoiler alert: praise for Mr. Renske will be frequent.

“Deliberation” (The Great Cold Distance, 2007)

One of the singles released for this album, yet perhaps not as popular as the household that is “My Twin”, “Deliberation” is a perfectly cohesive track in early stages of Katatonia’s seventh album. Delicate leads follow rhythms that change in weight from verse to chorus with effortlessness. Just a brilliant overall composition that never really gets old.

“Onward Into Battle” (Night is the New Day, 2009)

Night is the New Day proved to be far more of an exploration of sound than the preceding albums, and “Onward Into Battle” gets a nod for how well it executes a synth element without losing any of the emotions that define Katatonia’s music. The mesmerizing chorus (thanks again to Mr. Renske) and the fact that this track is performed with just as much quality live are also worth mentioning.

“Evidence” (Viva Emptiness, 2003)

It was really hard for me not to pick about four songs from this album. Maybe not the most consistent work from Katatonia to date, but the high points were really high. This is one of them. The stop and start feel as it jumps from the steady cadence of the verses into the catchy (and thought-provoking) chorus makes this one hard to ignore. But then again, it’s one of many on this album. Take your pick, this one is mine.

“Rainroom” (Brave Murder Day, 1996)

The obvious difference between Brave Murder Day and everything after it is the presence of  Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) on vocals. But the thing is, the death growls and the ambient vocals Jonas’ has had to focus on since 1997 have worked equally well with Katatonia’s sound. Fortunately, we get a bit of both on here. And let me tell you, as awesome as the dark and heavy moments of this track are, the clean vocals featured on the interlude in the second half of this album are simply entrancing.

“Ambitions” (Dead End Kings, 2012)

Yes, the most recent album gets a second mention. And deservedly so. While there were heavier moments on this album, “Ambitions” was predominantly focused on the more melodic side of Katatonia’s sound, and it absolutely perfects it. Sure, the chorus has a bit more pace. But the verse slides methodically, allowing Renske’s vocal presence to really take form. He has long been one of may favorite vocalists in metal because of tracks like this. Certainly not the most dynamic, but it’s a vocal sound that just stays with you.

“I Am Nothing” (Tonight’s Decision, 1999)

I’ve long appreciated music that provokes personal reflection. As dark and depressing as that concept can be, it allows for music to take on a more personal meaning. In general, Katatonia does that better than most. But this song is on another level. Exploring the dark side of introspection, you can hear just a little bit more emotion in Jonas’ voice as the lyrics move in exceptionally organized fashion with the music.

 “Criminals” (Viva Emptiness, 2003)

This one won a tie breaker over a number of other tracks thanks in part to the lead guitar work. While the percussion and rhythms remain steady as the tempo fluctuates, the echoing, bending nature of the leads stands out brilliantly through the choruses. I also appreciated the efficiently differing weights and cadences over the course of the track. Captivating throughout, despite these deviations.

“Deadhouse” (Discouraged Ones, 1998)

The first time I ever heard this song was when it was performed live in 2012. I was hooked on it instantly. There is nothing truly complex about this song, it isn’t progressive like the more recent Katatonia albums. In classic Katatonia form, the track builds in pace and weight from verse to chorus and there is a gorgeous instrumental interlude and brief solo in the later stages. But this song, in a simple, compact form, is everything that I love about Katatonia. It is dark, depressing, energy that you simply cannot turn away from. From the guitars to the rhythms to the vocals, it is put together perfectly and it all comes together to create an environment of sound I am constantly revisiting.

Needless to say, I could list off several other tracks, and even albums, that I would not have hesitated to substitute onto this list. Going back through the Katatonia discography can be an emotional experience and finding the tracks that stand out just a bit more is a completely personal experience. Enjoy this list, but I encourage you to go through it all to see how it plays out for you.

“Ein Bier… bitte.”
– Corey

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