Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Katatonia - Night is the New Day

With the clouds hanging low in the sky and rain in the air, I sit in my candle lit office; needle of my beloved turntable poised in anticipation over the spinning vinyl platter of Katatonia’s latest release, Night is the New Day. I pause for a brief moment to reflect on the bleak weather and the perfect backdrop for the music that will soon fill the air with its brooding and ominous weight. Can you believe my luck? Gloomy and miserable weather to go hand in hand with the new album from one of metaldoms darkest and most moodily complex units! The Metal Gods are surely looking down on me in favor!

Admittedly, I’m a rather new fan of Katatonia, having only discovered them on the Viva Emptiness album. But, in so many ways, I feel like I’ve been following this band, and they’ve been a massive part of my life for decades. Maybe I simply relate to the heartache, the mental torment, the pain that they’ve espoused over their past releases. Maybe a part of me really likes lurking around in the gloom of my candle lit office. Or, maybe, just maybe, I like being depressed. I don’t know all of the reasons, and nor do I claim to want to. What I do know is that Katatonia has released a demon of an album that propels the listener into a primal state of self deprecation at the same time that it’s sending that same listener to a place where the soft light of hope softly burns. Even while I sit in near darkness and let the detuned chords wash over me, bathing me in sheer moments of melancholy, I marvel at the complexity of the musicianship and song composition.

Night is the New Day opens with the majestic “Forsaker.” The song is balanced artfully between beautiful and brutal, namely by the guitar work of Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norrman. While one guitar is shimmering elegant clean toned passages through the left speaker, the other is bombarding us with wave after wave of detuned distortion. The contrast of the two moods created by these uber-talented guitarists is the yin and yang of Katatonia, but it’s the tormented performances of vocalist Jonas Renkse that defines the band’s sound, at least of recent years. The rhythm section of bassist Mattias Norrman and drummer Daniel Liljekvist may have the toughest job of all. These two have to keep the groove throughout the countless mood swings and abrupt time changes . . . and they do a masterful job at that. “Forsaker” is the epitome of the Katatonia composition. Huge musical movements countered by subtle instrumental textures, all powered to the touch the soul by soaring, though tortured vocals.

The sprawling epic-ness of the Katatonia sound is carried on through “Onward Into Battle,” dark and filled with melancholy. There are no wasted notes as the band seemingly adds a piece of their individual beings into the performances. With every verse, you’re gripping onto every word in hopes that with the combined strength of every listener that everything will work out for the better. The instrumental break near the midpoint of the track is filled with so much drama . . . the band very easily could have inserted a simple start/stop break, but instead, they chose to add huge chords of synthesizers to accompany the guitars, creating a short but utterly fantastic movement in the music. It almost has a progressive vibe while rooted in classical composition, while still retaining a full on gritty metal approach. It’s truly an amazing break! Listen to the wide array of effects that the guitar duo uses throughout this track and become amazed at the virtuosity that they employ in their craft.

“Liberation” and “The Promise of Deceit” are the two tracks that see my return the most frequently during this initial auditory exploration because of the superior musicianship and the bands ability to plant seeds of fantasy in my mind. In particular, the chorus vocal melodies in “Liberation” send chills across all of my emotions. Filled with equal parts sorrow and hope, Renkse’s voice should be a national treasure of the great country of Sweden. Note the guitar work on these two tracks, as well. Both songs are filled with great ambient moments from one guitarist, beautifully textured approaches of clean tones, and then shift into monstrous distorted tones that are mixed with a great technique of palm muted attacks and wide open sustained chords. The combination makes for an intriguing listen. “The Promise of Deceit” is oppressively heavy and ultimately creepy, awash in darkened tones, it’s the kind of song that would be playing in your head as you wander dazed through an empty old house, seeing aged pictures of people that you think you recognize as those you once loved. Man . . . the imagery that these guys convey through their music is always a welcome treat!

“Ashen,” despite being one of the heavier songs on the album, has a ton of accessibility due to the bands great use of melody. Now, I’m not talking the sickly sweet type melodies that make us retch while listening to pop radio. I’m talking haunting melodies that grip you in a real way. Melodies that actually feel like a weight has been placed on your chest and that you want to cry because these same melodies bring back a million memories that are filled with pain. Melodies that actually mean something. Dancing between the rich melodic works, the guitars pummel away with tastefully palm muted and somewhat aggressive passages. The off time drum patterns are a nice touch! You never know exactly where Liljekvist is going, but it’s always someplace of greater interest than most. Note the soft pitter-patter of what sound like fingers rapping across a desk in the early moments of the track. Again, nice touch of texture that may not necessarily move the song along, but it becomes a place of interest.

I hate to say that Katatonia can do no wrong, but everything that I’ve heard since Viva Emptiness has been nothing but pleasure to my ears. When Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt said something along the lines that Night is the New Day is the best heavy album that he’s heard in the last ten years, I certainly paid attention. Is it the best heavy album that I’ve heard in the past ten years? No. It is most certainly one of the best albums that I’ve heard in the past year and will undoubtedly make my year end Top 10 List because Night is the New Day is absolutely amazing. The musical moments contained within the grooves of this album are mighty and definitely deserve the recognition of the masses. The darkened tones of the albums material are real. If the subject matter isn’t real, then Jonas Renkse is one hell of an actor, because he conveys the torture and pain of his emotions like we were witnessing it happen first hand. And what I’ve found possibly the most interesting aspect of this album, and those before it, is that even though the subject matter and the musical tones are dark and brooding, the music isn’t depressing. Though it works well to be played in a darkened room merely lit by candles, I never feel the need to look for a loaded gun or a bottle full of pills. These are songs of inner strength and a firsthand description of one man’s ability to handle said struggles. Night is the New Day is simply a captivating listen and will require more than one listen to grasp the full weight.

-- Pope JTE

Buy here: Night Is the New Day

Buy here: Night Is the New Day (Ltd)

No comments:

Post a Comment