Katatonia – Sky Void of Stars

With a band as well-known and revered as Katatonia, writing a review can be daunting.  I could write a positive review and still upset fans, honestly.  So, here goes.  The new album is called Sky Void of Stars and it releases on January 20th.

Katatonia have been at it for over 30 years now.  They have changed sounds over the years, but not so much that they became unrecognizable.  The current lineup includes Jonas Renkse (vocals), Anders Nyström (guitar), Roger Öjersson (guitar), Niklas Sandin (bass) and Daniel Moilanen (drums).

I know that some fans were somewhat disappointed with 2020’s City Burials, an album that I reviewed well at the time, but I don’t find myself revisiting it often whatsoever.  I think some fans were upset with the move away from progressive rock that featured in 2016’s The Fall of Hearts, which was itself a move away from the band’s classic sound.  Katatonia, no matter their focus, have always been dark, melancholic metal, whether you go back to their death metal vox days, love their more melodic doomy fare, or fell in love with their proggier side.  The problem, in my eyes, is that the band has at least three different types of fans, and I’m not sure they can ever satisfy them all at once.

Well, I think Sky Void of Stars is an attempt.  This album has some heavier moments, especially in the first half, but many of the songs are full of doom tones and unadulterated melody, too.  You’ll hear plenty of odd time signatures and off-kilter rhythms, which are sometimes successful and other times not so much.  You’ll also hear less complex, groovier segments, yet they are just as effective.  I think the band has a nice balance here, though, without completely committing to either sound.

For what it’s worth, I actually prefer the doom side of the band.  Here’s why: I feel like many of the proggier moments are somewhat forced, though performed well.  Sometimes the extra stumbling rhythm just doesn’t make that much sense for the song.  That is especially true with Jonas’ vocal melodies as he has a tendency to add extra words outside of the current melody, and the results are decidedly mixed.  Sometimes it can be endearing and interesting, and sometimes it sounds like he is trying to catch up with the music.

Either way, Sky Void of Stars is still a good record.  I like the heaviness of the guitars in the first half, though they aren’t quite as heavy as I prefer for this band.  Still, it’s a good sound and nice amount of edge that takes their music to another level.  The album also has plenty of eerie keys that sound grey and shadowy, and they tend to flow like a river through most of the songs.  Jonas also produces some fantastic vocal hooks across this record, and I find myself singing many of them and more often that I have on their past albums.  Again, I think they are hitting a nice balance, and that plays out in how the album sounds at first glance, and then how it sounds after listening to it a dozen times or more.

I love all three singles, even though I didn’t at first.  “Austerity” is a superb opener with some heaviness and a bright chorus that I love.  “Birds” is almost as heavy, and there’s just something I love about Jonas singing about birds.  I don’t know what it is; maybe it reminds me of “Dead Letters”, one of my favorite Katatonia songs.  “Atrium” was the real surprise for me.  It has such an attractive liquid flow that I didn’t sense at first, and so I wrote it off.  The more I hear it, the more I love it.  I think it is situated perfectly near the end of the album, too, as it is has become a touchstone for me.

I have some other favorites, too.  “Colossal Shade” has become a go-to for me with its leering, heavy guitars and foreboding lyrics.  “Drab Moon” is a great one, too, with its sharp doom tones, “Impermanence” has a terrific chorus and plays like a ballad, and the closer “No Beacons to Illuminate Our Fall” transitions back and forth between searing intensity and gentle ambience—I like how it ends the album with utter greyness.  One of my favorites overall is actually the bonus track, “Absconder”.  I love the keys on this track which make the song feel like lumbering cinema to some extent.  It is a memorable track with some beautifully ghostly melodies and great riffing, and so it almost feels like it has the complete Katatonia package.  I’m not sure why it is only a bonus track.

I like Katatonia and their sound on paper, though each album hits me differently.  Sky Void of Stars didn’t hit me that well at first, but I’ve really come to appreciate the balanced gloom here.  There are songs that I don’t particularly love, but there are some that are definitely going to stay with me.  Overall, I think fans of all stripes will be reasonably happy with this one.


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