It was the summer of 2004 and I was flipping through CDs at a record store in California where I came across Katatonia’s Viva Emptiness. Now I have heard of them before as I was already a huge fan of Opeth and read that they were both really good friends with each other and hailed from Stockholm. I got the album and when the first track Ghost in the Sun came up I automatically knew that there was something special with this band. Eight years have passed since that day and Katatonia have become one of my favourite bands. Releasing two more studio albums after Viva Emptiness, Katatonia are continuing to evolve and craft their sound to the point where they have forgo their humble beginnings as one of the forerunners in the Death/Doom genre alongside My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost. With Katatonia’s newest opus Dead End Kings, they have followed the path given to them by their two most recent albums Night is the New Day and Great Cold Distance. Dead End Kings is quite possibly a great follow-up to the brilliant Night is the New Day and shows that Katatonia is not one band to be trifled with.
Dead End Kings, as with many of Katatonia’s other albums, there is change or an addition to their sound. With Dead End Kings there is more of an electronic feel thanks in part to the mysterious Frank Default who has been handling the electronics and keyboards since 2005. The album marks also the first studio release for guitarist Per “Sodomizer” Erikkson and bassist Niklas “Nille” Sandin as 2009 saw the departure of Fredrik and Mattias Norrman. From a guitar standpoint Anders “Blakkheim” Nystorm and the new addition Per Erikkson are in perfect form on the album, able to create heavy riffs combined with the right amount of melody without it becoming overbearing. One key difference to the guitars is the addition of more solos and melodic lines. Songs like Leech, Hypone, and Lethean emphasise this greatly and the solos themselves recall somewhat of their comrades-at-arms Opeth’s jazz-like solos. The rhythm section in bassist Niklas Sandin and drummer Daniel Liljekvist is tight and keeps the band from collapsing in itself. Songs like the first single Dead Letters, for instance, shows the power of the rhythm section with Daniel’s offbeat rhythms coupled with the Niklas’ bass getting a bit of the spotlight. In Dead End Kings vocalist Jonas Renkse is excellent, bringing his soulful, melancholic vocals to a whole new level on the album. Jonas Renkse in the early days of Katatonia utilised agonising screams but due to vocal issues he was unable to use harsh vocals anymore and on the album Brave Murder Day they enlisted Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth to do the growls while Jonas switched to drums and clean vocals. After the album Discouraged Ones, Jonas focused on just his vocals and over the next decade and a half his vocals became to shine more and more, and gives Katatonia an atmosphere of melancholy without the need for harsh vocals. The driving forces in Dead End Kings is definitely the vocals of Jonas Renske, where they ebb and flow throughout the songs without one break. For instance the song The One You Are Looking For is Not Here, Jonas shares vocal duties with Silje Wergeland of The Gathering for a wonderful duet. Truly Jonas has matured as a vocalist greatly and will probably continue to do so for many years to come.
The question remains if Dead End Kings can be considered their greatest work. In truth it could very well be their best album to date or be extremely close. Every song is brilliant and there is not one real bad link in the bunch. The opener, The Parting, has got to be one of the best openers for a Katatonia album with strings swelling and Jonas coming in, building the song until the rest of the band kicks in. Dead End Kings took what made Night is the New Day a superb album and added elements from their past albums (more specifically The Great Cold Distance) to create a hybrid of their sound but at the same time progressing their sound even further. If there is any fault in the album is that the album ends too quickly, at about 50 minutes Dead End Kings leaves you wanting more. Dead End Kings is a brilliant release for Katatonia and is sure to be a contender for top album of the year.
Tracklist: * = personal favourites
1. The Parting
2. The One You Are Looking For is Not Here (ft. Silje Wergeland) *
3. Hypone *
4. The Racing Heart
5. Buildings *
8. Undo You
9. Lethean *
10. First Prayer
11. Dead Letters *