Review Summary: Katatonia finally start to deliver on the potential they've displayed for their whole career.
Katatonia have the potential to be great. You can hear it in their music and see it when charting their near-constant transition during the first ten years of their existence. That potential became even more obvious around the time of Viva Emptiness
when they finally seemed to settle on a sound they were happy with. That sound was based around a contrasting harsh/calm style that was accentuated by occasional electronic elements and Jonas Renkse’s melancholic clean vocals. The problem was that on their subsequent release they basically just refined that formula and repeated it. The album was still very good, but the band’s discography showed that they were capable of something much better. Rather than adhere to simple songs that transition between heavy and mellow with repetitive regularity, they seemed like they could be releasing metal’s answer to The Cure
instead (anyone that has enjoyed Katatonia’s last few releases should already have that album).
Basically, the band have it in them to create an album full of expansive songs that are capable of being catchy and dark at the same time – songs that firmly establish an atmosphere as they slowly build towards an eventual conclusion. While Night is the New Day
doesn’t completely realize that potential, Katatonia have still made a significant move in that direction. They’ve almost entirely discarded their basic (and overused) formula of routine loud/soft transitions in favor of structures that evolve more naturally. This move has allowed the music to feel much more open and unpredictable than anything they’ve done in years. The facets of the band’s sound most responsible for this progression are the synths and electronics. These components have gone from simply being a token element to a fully realized feature without ever becoming the focal point. They are now completely effective at establishing the album’s bleak tone and their ebb-and-flow is the foundation in which the various riffs and melodies work from.
The two men responsible for these riffs and melodies are Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norrman. These two have almost perfected the art of utilizing dissonant riffs contrasted with clean melodies and, yet, they still seem to improve from album to album. On Night is the New Day
the basic doom influence that they’ve made use of for years is still present, but they’ve diversified and improved on that blueprint. They’ve injected the heavy sections with a subtle progressive undercurrent that makes the riffs feel less abstract and much more memorable – a change that has also resulted in them having a much more distinct identity than in the past. The melodic sections have also benefited from this progressive influence with the same resulting advantages. Although Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree
) didn’t have anything to do with the album, it seems his influence has still found its way into some of the songs. There are more than a few instances where his influence can be heard on the synth sounds (near the end of “Onward into Battle” for example), and entire tracks such as the semi-acoustic “Idle Blood” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Porcupine Tree or Opeth
Of course, even on “Idle Blood”, the difference is found in vocalist Jonas Renkse. Jonas’ style can be described as expressive and despondent, generally sticking to a mid-range where his voice can best accentuate the equally-forlorn music. On this album his voice hasn’t improved as much as it is just being used more effectively. Virtually every song features a few different vocal layers – often with at least one layer containing some kind of processing – occasionally lending them a dreamy, ethereal feel. The vocals are also the aspect most likely to put some people off due to the almost leisurely way that they’re delivered, but make no mistake, they’re effective.
After the release of The Great Cold Distance
there was a very plausible fear that Katatonia had found their preferred sound and were now going to continue churning out variations of the same album (a fear that opener “Forsaker” only seemed to confirm), but thankfully that has not come to pass. Instead the band has pushed forward with a slightly more progressive sound that allows the songs room to develop while retaining the heaviness and morose atmosphere that fans have come to expect. They’ve also finally transitioned their use of electronics and synths from a minor support role to a full-fledged piece of every track. This has lead to songs that flow much better than anything from their past, lending them an open feeling that is in stark contrast to the dense, simple feel of previous releases. Overall this is a big step forward for the band that sees them finally tapping into some of that unrealized potential those previous albums only ever hinted at.