Katatonia is a band that I have been following for some time and have grown to love over the years. Unlike many of the death metal bands that emerged from Sweden in the early 1990s, the trajectory of Katatonia’s sound has been one that I have appreciated throughout… Even if it may be difficult to tie their present day sound back to the likes of Dance of December Souls or Brave Murder Day. It’s natural that bands would evolve when they’ve been at their game as long as they have, but the procession of Katatonia albums has always been cohesive. It has always felt genuine. And that’s what makes Katatonia stand out in the metal universe. And with two new members and four years gone since 2012’s Dead End Kings, Katatonia is back with another masterfully mesmerizing collection of tracks. The Fall Of Hearts manages to reflect on the preceding albums while showing definitive expansion in ways that keep their sound inventive and interesting.
To dig a bit more into specifics, the post-Dead End Kings days saw the departure of Per Eriksson on guitars and Daniel Liljekvist on drums. And in stepped Roger Öjersson and Daniel Moilanen on the aforementioned instruments respectively. We hear immediate changes in these aspects of Katatonia’s sound in the opening “Takeover” and then later on “Serac”. The lengthier track that it is showcases a wide range of technical guitar passages and varying rhythmic patterns. It’s an example of added progressiveness in sound and structure beyond anything heard recently. But it also doesn’t over complicate things, allowing it to grow on a listener as the minutes pass.
As we focus on tracks that may be considered more straightforward, at least in terms of complexity in structure, the likes of “Serein” and “Last Song Before The Fade” identify the impressive production. While the instrumental atmospheres on recent work matched the brilliant airiness of Jonas Renske’s vocals with consistently, here they stand out with a sharper, more definitive construct — especially the guitar work. Even on the more deliberate “Old Heart Falls”, the leads absolutely take the front stage and resonate beautifully. Now, instead of each musical element continuously aligning with each other in terms of feel — which, I must say, was one of the qualities that made albums like The Great Cold Distance and Discouraged Ones so successful — there are opportunities for varying emphasis in terms of instrumental production levels. It’s one of the fundamental aspects of this album that allow it to stand out among recent Katatonia work.
But what I appreciate most about The Fall Of Hearts is the modest alterations from one track to the next. The album as a whole never loses sight of the melancholic take on death metal that Katatonia has perfected over the years. In full, it’s yet another gorgeous collection of introspective phrases and messages. But each song delivers this environment a little differently. “Decima”, “Residual”, and the later “Pale Flag”, for example, bring out the acoustic elements, drawn out vocals, and strings to carefully drive their burdening message home. Meanwhile, the immediate successor to “Decima” that is “Sanction”, or the closing “Passer”, is more weighted with darkness and frequented pace. Instead of guiding a listener, it forces sorrow outward through crunchier riffs mixed in with the melancholic vocal phrases. And then there is “Shifts”, which offers more vocal experimentation than anything I’ve heard from Jonas in years… if not ever. What I’m getting at here is, each track is unique in its own way on one dimension or another. Yet, this still feels like a cohesive album. Katatonia have never struggled to put together an organized collection of tracks, but at the same time I can’t say they have ever explored as much range within a single album. Managing to keep this much progressiveness (relatively speaking) uniform is commendable.
Katatonia has long proven their ability to create a sound that is gloomy and bleak while still offering a glimmer of light within their melody phrasing. That beauty is still what defines The Fall Of Hearts. If you’ve appreciated the way their sound has evolved over preceding studio albums, you will undoubtedly be impressed here. Most importantly, they manage to take these same concepts and emotions and twist them slightly. It’s enough to make this album align with past work while simultaneously allowing it to evolve with a notable progressiveness. This evolution is now as it always has been… never forced, incredibly organic, and absolutely stunning in terms of sonical imagery. The Fall Of Hearts will leave a lasting impression in the way that promotes reflection. It features many of the same theories that have defined recent Katatonia work, but delivered with a different mechanism. It’s the familiar Katatonia brilliance pushed in new direction.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”