Review Summary: A more ambitious vision and clearly renewed purpose sees Katatonia at their finest in years.
Katatonia have achieved legendary status in the realm of Swedish heavy metal, with an evolution not dissimilar to English counterparts Anathema and Paradise Lost. One element that has remained intact throughout their various transformations is their masterful use of atmosphere, even if the compositional component has been largely streamlined by now. The Fall of Hearts
is thankfully a largely adventurous offering, moreso than anything the band has recorded in many years. This latest by the morose quintet features plenty of surprising songwriting choices, including some of the their most bold musical explorations in quite some time. “Serac” navigates a maze of musical styles, bringing to mind bands like Opeth. The softer sides of bands like these are a large influence on …Hearts
, sounding more akin to the latest releases by Riverside or Votum than their historical contemporaries My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost.
Progressive rock influences have always been present for Katatonia, but never quite in the vein seen here. Never before has the band sounded so comfortable and, well, right playing this style of music. The doom and gloom that makes up the marrow of Katatonia’s sound is now seen through a new, more conceptual framework executed magnificently. Album opener “Takeover” is a prime example of this. It begins abruptly with dreary, melodic guitars over Jonas Renkse’s crooning of days melting into nothingness, before suddenly transitioning into tribal drumming and technical guitar playing. The song keeps contorting and transforming as it goes along, repeating the emotionally resonant intro section at just the perfect time. This restless and breathtaking introduction to the album serves as a statement for what to expect from the rest, which is ultimately a more evolved and purposeful Katatonia.
The melodic, subtle verses and exploding choruses in nearly every song made for solid releases until now, but …Hearts
takes this formula and turns it on its head. Straightforward, simple songwriting avenues are not wholly abandoned, as “Serein” and “Shifts” provide plenty of the more immediate thrills that fans of more recent outputs have come to expect, but they are no longer the main stylistic backbone of the band’s sound. Katatonia have more than proven that they can do no wrong no matter what they set out to do, though after a legendary existence, this musical shift is a welcome change. It expands on the brilliance of moments like the extended bridge of “First Prayer” from Dead End Kings
for more than just a song or two per album. It allows for a full exploration of what has merely been hinted at in the past, and given the band’s more mainstream leanings in recent times, makes for a fresh take on a well-established sound.
Frontman Jonas Renkse has long been a highlight of Katatonia, and the more ambitious songwriting in …Hearts
allows for his range to reach even farther than before. “Residual” in particular sees his voice blending with the guitar tones for some truly powerful moments. He is able to hit more emotional punches than before as well, including the previously mentioned “Takeover,” as well as “Decima.” The latter begins with a beautiful acoustic guitar melody with flutes intertwining together for an enchanting display over Renkse’s gentle yet heart-wrenching vocals. Renske carries the whole song alongside the impressive instrumentals, including newcomer Daniel Moilanen on drums. He does an admirable job keeping things interesting, fitting in well with the album’s more progressive songwriting.
is indeed the band’s most sonically expansive release in over a decade, allowing for each band member to display their instrumental prowess in freshly creative ways. The spacier, lighter direction taken with Night is the New Day
is still retained, with dynamic pianos and a pleasant ambience ever-present throughout the album’s staggering length. Being nearly seventy minutes in length, …Hearts
is the band’s longest release since Dance of December Souls
from over twenty years ago. It amazingly keeps the momentum going throughout the entire run time; the more impassioned and epic vision thankfully does not wear thin or drag at all. While many recent releases have ran out of steam as they went on, …Hearts
ends on a high note with the closing trio of songs. These serve to exemplify the album’s variety, with “The Night Subscriber” featuring some of the most impressive drumming and guitar riffing of the album. The naturalistic lyrics, meditative guitar, and mellotrons of “Pale Flag” hearken to the more contemplative moments of Opeth, and “Passer” closes the album with a punch, being a high-octane metal epic with guitar leads and soloing galore.
There is nary a wasted moment within …Hearts
, and sees Katatonia weaving gothic melodies into ever-changing dynamics for a versatile, magnificent record of depth and memorability. Soothing, contemplative soundscapes transition to bursts of energy at any moment, showing a band unafraid to still take risks far into their career, culminating in years of effort. While the band could have gone even farther in places, and maybe cut a song or two, The Fall of Hearts
further establishes Katatonia as masters of their craft, always achieving, changing, and exploring.