Review Summary: Wilted, yet blossoming.
Katatonia effectively became a different band after releasing Discouraged Ones
in 1998. Their departure into a lighter shade of doom music could be considered a fresh start--a quasi-debut, if you will. To that end, Discouraged Ones
was par for the course: ripe with raw, untapped potential. Listeners wouldn’t have to wait long for a follow-up, however, as Tonight’s Decision
was released a mere 16 months after its predecessor. Considering what became of both albums, we could view pre-turn-of-the-century Katatonia as a student turning in an initial rough draft, only to immediately hand over a different, edited version for the same assignment.
Unlike Discouraged Ones
, which practically barged open with repressed angst, Tonight’s Decision
lures and unfolds in a state of collected melancholia. This is a decidedly quieter affair, with backdrops of stillness amidst a surprising abundance of fun hooks and rhythms. Even at its heaviest, Tonight’s Decision
hardly reaches the same overt persona; the production feels more refined and in favor of evenly balancing each member. Although guitars still drive home most of the album, they feel more punctual and less overbearing, allowing the other instruments to feel like they have a place. This extends to vocalist Jonas Renkse, who made some notable improvements in such a short span of time. While his overall pitch still borders on awkward levels, his deliveries are carried out with an air of confidence and conviction. Everything combines to create a catchy overall presence, reaching a particular high on the radio-friendly riffs of “In Death, a Song.” Moments like these, taken together, ultimately make Tonight’s Decision
the most accessible and (arguably) easygoing Katatonia album. Want further proof? The album’s penultimate track is a cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Nightmares by the Sea,” whose banging chorus borders on being too conspicuous for its own good, which may be due to the songs it’s sandwiched between.
Not to be overtaken by borderline-upbeat moments, however, Katatonia retain their despondency by infusing a more mellow touch into their framework. Part of the band’s overarching appeal has been their duality of bleak themes and alluring music, so the decision to include less of a droning effect from song to song was only inevitable. Similar to how Brave Murder Day
’s slow, chilling moments kept things varied and interesting, Tonight’s Decision
frequently breaks the pattern for more than a few seconds at a time. “A Darkness Coming” uses its first two minutes to woefully demonstrate this, pulling us in with a delicate grasp before the music picks up, tightening its grip. Thanks to this injection of variety, the more familiar-sounding moments from Tonight’s Decision
stand out and leave a stronger impression. Both “Had To (Leave)” and “Black Session” take the band’s established method of repetition to craft a slow build-up, with the former bestowing a chilling climax halfway through before resuming the entrancing pattern. These moments work so well not just because they’re closer to the band’s roots, but also because they’re clearly distinguishable from the surrounding tracks. As they say, variety is the spice of life.
If any expression encapsulates Tonight’s Decision
, it would be that it’s a cautious step in the right direction. Katatonia were still trying to find a groove that they could work with and grow from, which helps explain their dabble into gentler waters here. They were still exploring the gamut, but had much more to discover before setting a new stone in their foundation. Tonight’s Decision
modestly peeks into certain corners, curious but not quite ready to commit to its shiny findings.