Review Summary: Forever Young. Forever Night.
When I was a small misbehaving buck, my parents used to soft lock me in a dark room for a few minutes as a sort of punishment. It was terrifying. As years went by, this practice continued, and I found that dark room increasingly comforting, to the point that I would make a mess just to have an excuse to be left alone there with silence and a wandering mind as my only company. At one point, I even thought I had superpowers because I could almost see in the dark... Aaah, the treasures of youth.
As an adult, the shadows became synonymous with peace of mind. Rooted on this strange practice, I started to develop the habit of listening to music in a dark room too. It's something I haven't done recently, as life puts you in situations when doing this would only make the people around you afraid for your sanity, but there are a few special occasions and a few special bands that demand the dark room treatment, and Katatonia is one of them.
I know many people reading this will understand the piercing emotion of that first contact with Katatonia: mine was “My Twin”. The way their songs crawl into your system can't be compared with anything else, it's hard to put into words, but it’s something truly special. The feelings they conjure are as cryptic as Jonas Renkse's unique lyricism. A few notes in and you're instantly hit with a stream of blissful melancholy, of uplifting sadness and now, after so many years in the company of their music, of much welcomed nostalgia.
This is a band on their 13th album with more than thirty years of releases and exhaustive touring cycles. In spite of it all, Katatonia has always pushed through the odds and have emerged victorious on the other side, usually with an amazing record as proof. The short hiatus of 2017, on the other hand, was the only time I personally thought that it was the end for them, and once again they returned with City Burials
, an album that saw them rejuvenated, but also maturing their sound and pacifying the flames of old with newfound serenity. With Jonas Renkse taking the reins not only as a songwriter and composer, but also putting his emblematic voice at the forefront of Katatonia's music and after taking the plunge from Peaceville to Napalm Records, the band has once again summoned the mysterious forces that guide them, and it feels like they had never left.
Sky Void of Stars
is a step beyond City Burials
in that same direction, where maturity tames their everlasting flame, but this time looking over the shoulder and reaching even further into the past. "Austerity" hits like thunder out of a clear night sky and it feels instantly familiar. The opener could fit into Night is the New Day
or in any of the other pre-hiatus releases. It's short and sweet, combining the intricate drum patterns of a very settled Daniel Moilanen with the battering riffing of Anders Nyström and Roger Öjersson. The same ghosts of the past appear on the next track, "Colossal Shade", channeling The Great Cold Distance
's energy like twenty years haven't gone by for the Swedes.
Things take a slight turn with "Opaline". I'm most certain that sections like the chorus will take time to sink in, but once they do, they will be impossible to cast away. This first section of the album is rounded up by the fast-paced gothic rock of "Birds", which leads to what I feel is the weakest link of the album. "Drab Moon" is not a bad song per se; It builds on a great nocturnal atmosphere, and Jonas' subtle harmonies are complemented gracefully with Nyström and Öjersson's guitar spells but it's somewhat sluggish, and it halts the album's momentum abruptly. On the other hand, the following "Author" quickly picks up the pace, featuring one of Jonas' greatest vocal melodies in the album and much of the superb work that's been done on this album's production.
The waning quarter of Sky Void of Stars
includes several moments that ought to be highlighted. Jonas' heartful singing in the somber quasi-ballad "Impermanence", which also features Soen's Joel Ekelöf, the austerity and moody temper of "Sclera" and finally "Atrium", which is the undisputable highlight of the album for me and one of the best songs Katatonia have produced in a long time. The vanilla version of the album closes with "No Beacon to Illuminate Our Fall", a six-minute progression that lead the album to its end with robust resolve, but the special edition includes a bonus track titled "Absconder" that is worth considering, since it blends their most modern sound with the majestic heaviness of an album like Dead End Kings
With Sky Void of Stars
, Katatonia have managed to recapture the essence that made them sovereigns of the progressive metal scene, marrying the gloom wizardry they unearthed at the turn of the new millennium with the soothing wisdom that emanates from their latest compositions. It's the same magic that beckons me to the dark room once again, and there we meet like old friends relishing the past and dreaming of the future, because if something is clear after Sky Void of Stars
it’s that Katatonia still has plenty to share, and the night is forever young.