Review Summary: The Great Cold Distance by Katatonia is the best metal album of all time. Change my mind!
Actually, I don't want anybody to change my mind, it's a bold statement, I know, but that is something I've been thinking about for a long time. And starting this year I've been coming back to it every week, revisiting Katatonia's vast discography and drawing the same conclusion every time. I've been a fan of this band like from the early 2000s: they've just ditched their doom metal phase and were transitioning into an alternative rock band, and it's was a beautiful process, really. Not that I don't like their earlier material, no way, Brave Murder Day is amazing and a very standalone record for that time, even the first one was a very fine installment of that blackened raw sound they had back then. But it really started brewing with Last Fair Deal Gone Down: Jonas had finally discovered his voice's abilities, but hasn't realized his full potential as a singer yet, music had become much more diverse, and the band that will later record their best album was fully formed.
Some may say that this was the beginning of Katatonia's USA or nu metal phase, yeah, it definitely sounded like this, especially with Viva Emptiness release. Heavy usage of power chords, and huge hooks in the choruses, but still there was something gothic and sinister about them, always reminding of their dark past. That was the selling point for me: Swedish coldness and American marketable condition, it was accessible, but complex, songs were well-composed and polished, but sounded unique for the genre, thematically it was cohesive, but not really a concept album. Basically, it was a prog rock for a generation that grew up watching MTV, like much-much smarter version of Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park, but less smug than Porcupine Tree. Hell, they even had screaming vocals back then.
So being a huge fan already I remember the day Katatonia announced their new album by the name of The Great Cold Distance. In 2006 there was no Facebook or Twitter, we had to check bands' websites every day to get the news, so it was a big thing for me to see the artwork and tracklist for the first time, I've instantly loved everything about it. And then I heard it. My initial reaction was more emotional and immature, so I'll talk more about how I feel about the album today. Mostly I'm amazed with the way it is produced and arranged, TGCD is a true beauty of metal music. The production is incredibly nuanced and well thought out, every song has it own character and sound palette, and each is highlighted in its own unique way. Every musician shines throughout the record, they all have enough time in the spotlight, you can really hear that they've all individually upped their game a lot. It's progressive without being boring, and heavy enough to bang your head, but not to get tired of it, lyrically it's eerie relatable and not cryptic or too poetic. The album pushes my every button and then some more.
The Great Cold Distance has that strange comforting presence for me, maybe it's nostalgic, maybe it's because of a simpler times back in the day, on the other hand not that many albums from my youth are still frequenting my playlist on the regular basis. It's more like a book, once you've read it, it becomes a part of your consciousness, or like some nice place you like to visit every now and then, and it makes you happy it's still there, standing. Yes, it really makes me happy that I still love this album, I haven't grown out of it, it is still relevant for me. My jaw drops every time I hear heavy numbers like Leaders or Consternation, I tear up a bit during Soil's Song and In the White, I feel challenged by the complexity of Deliberation or Increase, simpler songs like July and Follower have their own value for me. This record has Katatonia's best closing track ever, and I think that B-sides Displaced and Dissolving Bonds may be the best songs they've recorded. This album is truly cold and distant, but it contains so much true and sincere feelings, and that's what makes it great. I'm so sorry for this terrible pun.
I didn't like The Night Is the New Day much, too gothic for me, Dead End Kings was okay, but a bit stale, The Fall of Hearts was great again, so I really hope it wasn't their last.