Review Summary: An above-average beginning to one of the leading doom metal bands of today.
I have always enjoyed listening to atmospheric, thought-invoking music, and in most cases music filled with emotion delivers such an atmosphere. Thus I arrived at Doom metal, and explored the various offerings it had.
Katatonia is a well-established doom-metal band that has progressively changed their sound over the years. Some may even say they aren't really 'metal' anymore.
Dance of December Souls is their first release, and gave them a reasonable start to the doom metal scene.
Overall, the album has good melody to it, and very doomy feel. The slow guitars sound nice, and you can actually hear the bass. The drumming, although nothing brilliant, sounds clear. However, as good as the instruments may be, the vocals really determine the outcome of the album. Jonas Renkse puts a lot of emotion into his voice, and he really brings the songs together, but his harsh vocals are just pitiful. In terms of harsh vocals, you need to be really good. Renkse is not. I suppose this is why Dance of December Souls is the only album which features prominent harsh vocals from him (I am excluding the previous EP, For Funerals to Come). Brave Murder Day, the next Katatonia release, has Akerfeldt at the helm of harsh vocals.
The album begins with an intro track, which isn't anything but an atmospheric filler. Its main purpose is to launch into the first song, Gateways of Bereavement. I find this first track to be a disappointing start to the album. Slow and gloomy as it should be, it bored me as there weren’t any good melodies to get me into the song.
The second song, In Silence Enshrined, was what I had been waiting for. A very melodic, emotive song and a much better opener than Gateways of Bereavement.
Next is Without God. This song builds up over it's 6 minute length to a climax, and ends with Renske screaming 'Your f***ing God is dead!'. A decent, solid song.
After the first 3 songs, we get our first break in the form of Elohim Meth. I have read many reviews in which the reviewer has bagged out instrumental fillers, suggesting them to be a total waste of time. I have a completely different view on them. As with many progressive metal albums, a short instrumental is a good way to balance out the longer songs which require a lot more patience and attention. Obviously they will not commended as songs themselves, but looking at it in the perspective of the whole album, short instrumental tracks are good ways to bridge different parts of the album.
Elohim Meth is an instrumental track that goes for just under two minutes, and is the bridge between the first part of the album (the 3 songs already mentioned), and the second part. The second part is two very long songs, and a closing track.
Velvet Thorns (Of Drynwhyl) is the first of these two songs, and is probably the best song on the album. However, you will need the patience to get through it, as it goes for almost 14 minutes. I myself have never had a problem with long songs, and I drool at the likes of Black Rose Immortal by Opeth (clocking in at 20:14).
Hence, the length of these songs does not bother me, but I have heard many times that longer songs just bore people. It really depends on your preference and/or your patience.
The same goes for the next song, Tomb of Insomnia. A really good song if you can get into it, but long by normal standards.
The two longer songs are really great together, and Katatonia have done well to put them together and apart from the first 3 shorter songs. They contain everything such tracks need, sections of melancholic reflection, aggressive moments, and times when Renske just loses himself in tortured screams.
To finish off the album, we have Dancing December. Another instrumental, though not acoustic, Dancing December wasn't a very good finishing track. I was expecting something sad, slow, along the lines of Elohim Meth, and Dancing December just felt out of place.
These days Doom metal is commonly associated with sad music, but with clean singing and not harsh vocals. Bands like Katatonia and My Dying Bride have mostly abandoned all forms of harsh vocals, opting for clean singing. While recent releases from these two bands have been good, I still think that harsh vocals are really good with doom metal, and this is why Dance of December Souls received a slightly higher score. It retains that piece of Katatonia history, when Renske scraped his vocal chords out for us (bear in mind he wasn't very good at it in the first place).
The songs themselves are good, but not brilliant. In terms of the album overall, it is written well, but the closing track was a bit disappointing.
I recommend this album to those of you who adore early-My Dying Bride, Brave Murder Day, or those of you who have a yearning for harsh doom metal.