Live Review / Gallery: Katatonia & Sólstafir – The Garage, Glasgow 13/02/23

Formed as a death metal duo back in 1991, Swedish veterans Katatonia have long-since moved on from their abrasive beginnings, and in 2023, hit the road in support of their twelfth full-length record, Sky Void of Stars, another lush and grandiose mix of prog-metal and gothic rock.

Sólstafir by Marilena Vlachopoulou

Officially a co-headline with Icelandic post-metal group Sólstafir, it’s encouraging to see such a busy venue on a cold, Monday night in the middle of a Glasgow winter. Sólstafir themselves enjoy a rapturous set, an already packed crowd reacting to frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s messianic interraction. The band themselves, having similarly retreated from their extreme metal origins, do their best to invoke the dramatic soaring melodies of compatriots Sigur Ros, but the pondering rhythms and plodding song-structures don’t let the band push the sonic boundaries they could explore.

As soon as Katatonia hit the stage, it’s immediately apparent that they are a heavier proposition. Opening with Austerity, from Sky Void of Stars, they kick straight in with twisted prog-metal structures and chuggy guitars, while singer Jonas Renkse, a long-haired silhouette amidst backlit smoke, leads the crowd through his melancholic chorus. 

Although the set is heavily weighted towards their newer stuff – nearly half of the tracks come from their new album, while the oldest song played is set-closer Evidence from 2003’s Viva Emptiness – Katatonia feel like they really hit their stride as a band when they strip it back slightly, playing older, heavier songs with a groove and a feeling that their studio-perfect newer tracks lack slightly. 

Katatonia by Marilena Vlachopoulou

Renkse ironically introduces My Twin, from their 2006 opus The Great Cold Distance, as ‘our one and only hit single’, and the crowd find their voice, and their head-banging ability, for these peaks. As flawless as the new tracks sound live, they often depend on a lot of backing track for texture – often overpowering Renkse’s tender vocals.

Halfway through, a heckle from the crowd goes unanswered – ‘play some fucking old shit’ – and it must be difficult being a band into their fourth decade of existence, still recording albums you’re proud of, to have to please fans of different creative eras. There’s also no doubt that the crowd are overall delighted with Katatonia’s performance tonight in general, especially as they really find their groove towards the end of the set. It just seems that they work best when they’re cut free from the grips of the studio, with the likes of Forsaker from 2009’s Night is The New Day, really showcasing their metal chops. 

As the crowd filter out, having seen an encore of mid-career era favourites July and Evidence, there’s a sense of having seen a very good band perform some great new stuff and some old favourites – but there’s also the sense that a few hundred of the fans would definitely appreciate a ‘best-of the old stuff’ tour at some point in the near future. 

Words by David Weaver

Photography by Marilena Vlachopoulou

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