By Chris Gibbons
Lockdown has certainly had an impact on my listening habits. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to keep up with weight training in a garage gym and it is during training sessions that I get time away from work and family long enough to enjoy a metal playlist or two. Whereas previously I’d be excited by the discovery of a new album to listen too, I’ve found myself instead reaching for the comfort of the known and I’ve been re-discovering old favourites and genres that I’ve not listened to for a while. The grunge and post-grunge years of the 90’s and early noughties, times when those of us now approaching the half-way mark in life were trying to figure out what it was all about ( and no, I’m not pretending I have yet either), have been a particular source of warm nostalgia at a time when everything feels quite uncertain.
So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I sat down on my weight bench to listen to the latest Katatonia release “City Burials”. Katatonia are a band that has defied the trends over the years and evolved from their early death metal roots into a more prog-metal groove, with influences from bands like Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Mudvayne evident on their more recent works. When you take a look over their three-decade spanning discography, Katatonia are a band that are certainly hard to pigeon hole and “City Burials” is no exception. It is at times brooding, fiendishly heavy, melodic and melancholic and throughout driven by Jonas Renkse’s lyrical prowess. This all combines to make an album that, given the time to have a proper listen, becomes an immersive journey that will have you coming back for more. Like a good film, this is a record that with each visit leads you to notice something new. It is, however, a dark and brooding afair and if soaring uplifting metal is what you need at these times be forewarned – this is an icy blast of Scandanavian winter that will leave you cold. If it’s introspection and brooding is your poison of choice, well then step inside and fill your cup with this particularly bitter potion and enjoy the dark vision-quest it will take you on.
The newest member of the band, guitarist Roger Öjersson, makes his mark on this record as part of a guitar duo with Anders Nyström that is laden with some brilliant riffs and almost psychedelic solo sounds on tracks like “Behind the Blood” – which also has some great, thick-sounding bass guitar. If I have one criticism of the album it is that some of the more atmospheric tracks, like “Vanishers”, are incredible vocally but leave you wishing they delivered a bit more punch – it sometimes, on tracks like “Lachesis”, feels like it’s building up to something but that massive heavy explosion of sound never comes. “The Winter of Our Passing” is an exception to this, with layers of electronica creating a track that amongst the deep Scandi-noir stands out as a relatively upbeat driving anthem with an almost 80’s groove to it.
For fans of the band’s early records there will be very little to recognise on an album that doesn’t so neatly fit the metal genre, and at times (with the exception of the tracks mentioned above) the songs bleed together a bit. It isn’t a record that instantly satisfies from the first play, but it is one that is worth taking the time to return to and immerse yourself in.
Time in lockdown well spent for sure.