Review Summary: Dead End Kings is the culmination of Katatonia as they are in their post-death/doom metal form
When Katatonia first radically shifted their sound toward their current motif, Dead End Kings
was the album in the back of their minds that represented what their new-found style was capable of. Of course that is only figurative since it has been fourteen years since their stylistic shift materialized in Discouraged Ones
, but it is easy to see just how Dead End Kings
is the very essence of what Katatonia were aiming for back then. It took them almost a decade and a half and six full-length albums, but here and now we have everything that represents what Katatonia are pressed onto an album. What Viva Emptiness
lacked in maturity, The Great Cold Distance
lacked in emotion, Night is the New Day
lacked in substance, Dead End Kings
corrects. Due to the fact that all previous Katatonia albums in this vein lacked some element or another, it was hard to catch a glimpse of the full picture of what potential really lived underneath the dust, but now that Dead End Kings
blows that away it is easy to see the glow that is finally allowed to reflect the sun.
Now that the sublime production values have interesting material to highlight and accent, the radiance of each individual instrument is allowed to come forth. The layers of instruments peel back to reveal keyboards and clean guitar ringing out at the close of “The Racing Heart”, but often swell as the crushing chords and flattening drums dominate tracks like “Dead Letters”. In typical Katatonia fashion, the heaviness is contrasted by quite a few mellow breaks that reveal the real heart of Dead End Kings
. Indeed, much of the grandeur of the album lies in small moments such as the guitar solo found in “Leech” or Silje Wergeland’s wonderful backing vocals in “The One You Are Looking For is not Here” – it is in these moments where the songwriting skill comes forth, in moments where simply shoehorning in chords won’t do. The fact that the album is so slowly paced yet remains so engaging is a testament to not only the skill inherent in Katatonia’s members but also the maturity they’ve gathered from a career of releasing records in this style. It is crucial to remember that Dead End Kings
is a product of years of other albums, each of which has part of its DNA reflected back here.
When the only real complaint regarding the album is its general lack of aesthetic variation – which with a Katatonia album isn’t the least bit surprising – it is easy to regard it as a massive success. Despite the similarity in mood, pace, delivery, and atmosphere of the album’s eleven tracks, Dead End Kings
proves to be a record without any remnant of filler. Each track provides something its predecessor did not, from the shining vocal performance of “The Racing Heart” to fleeting keys of “Undo You” to the heaviness of “Dead Letters”. I can’t remember enjoying a Katatonia album this much since I heard Brave Murder Day
, and it is easy to name Dead End Kings
as the best album they have released since their change in style shortly thereafter. It seeps emotional sincerity from every single crevice, and has a replay value that is shockingly high. This is far from the most complex album in the metal world, but the fact that it is so good and so memorable proves that sometimes being extremely simple is the best route to take. There is nothing quite like hearing a band find exactly what they were looking for, but Dead End Kings
is Katatonia finding themselves.