Katatonia – Dead End Kings
Dead End Kings
A new Katatonia record, at least in my universe, is kind of a big deal; they’re one of those bands that give me goosebumps, chills and make my heart race from songs I’ve heard well over a hundred times so, needless to say, when it’s time to pop in a new record it’s one of those things some people would call a “spiritual experience”, which I don’t feel is too off the mark in all reality. I remember getting my copy of Night Is The New Day in November of 2009 – winter was then in full-bloom – and taking walks every night absorbing its beauty and brilliance, forever associating the cold, detailed bareness of that album with the earth’s harshest season (which also happens to be my favorite). It has since grown to be one of my favorite Katatonia albums and, considering how much I adore that record, the anticipation for Dead End Kings has been, at times, almost overwhelming. I own it now, have listened to it around seven or eight times and feel this time is as good as any to post some reflections. Yeah, it’s pretty exceptional – these downtrodden guys have never let me down and I don’t think they ever will.
Dead End Kings, as I’m already practically feeling in my bones, is going to become a through-and-through autumnal record, and I think the band was relatively aware of this aesthetic, because it couldn’t have came out at a more perfect time. The album, released in late August, gives the listener a chance to get comfortable with the band’s continually progressive direction before being steamrolled by the album’s emotive power which has, inevitably, coincided quite beautifully with autumn being ushered in on this side of the planet. I mentioned the band’s direction and, if you’re a seasoned Katatonia listener, you know that their progression is continual; every album released builds on top of their previous releases, always offering new avenues of exploration whilst still always having a very strong and defined sense of the band’s recognizable identity. It’s truly a perfect balance that I’ve rarely seen in an artist and, in the case of these Swedish depressives, compliments what they do and what they’re about immaculately.
“The Parting” opens the album up hugely; this song, upon first listen, kind of blew me away but now it’s just destroying me – the riffs, melodies, synthetics, rhythms, vocals – it all coalesces into one hell of a punch that clearly indicates the band means business. It’s not as heavy or crushing as “Forsaker” from Night Is The New Day, and for such I am grateful, as bands repeating themselves gets old fast but, believe me, it’s just as powerful. What an opener! As usual, I am going to avoid song-by-song stuff but I’m feeling ever so inclined to highlight some tracks even if it’s a bit contradictory since every one is wonderful so, yeah, here we go. Aside from “Buildings”, “The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here” and perhaps “Dead Letters”, there really isn’t much “typical” Katatonia stuff going on here. Dead End Kings really takes off where Night Is The New Day ended, taking those airy, subtlety layered textural moments to a whole new level of experimentation. “Leech”, “The Racing Heart” and the gorgeous “Undo You” really showcase this somewhat newly discovered side of the band extremely well and are all, consequently, some of my favorite selections. “Hypnone” too, deserves special mention, containing that achingly beautiful quality only Katatonia are able to conjure up; the way the melodies evolve and interact with one another is so powerful to me that, at times, I find myself just holding my breath listening in awe before I even realize it! Did I mention I am a Katatonia nut?
Okay, the last thing that must be highlighted before I wrap this up is Jonas Renkse’s superb vocal performance; he is easily one of the most talented, controlled clean singers in the whole metal pantheon which becomes apparent upon listening to any of the later Katatonia records. There’s no falsettos or crooning, just purely smooth, elegant and hypnotic singing that is as instantly recognizable and unique as it is talented. Anyway, his voice has taken off on Dead End Kings like never before, sounding incredibly human, emotive, and warm – it’s quite a thing to behold. The line in “The Parting”, for example – “end origin” – illustrates Jonas using his voice more potently than ever and the results are certainly amazing. Granted, the progression of the vocals is probably going to be more apparent to long-time listeners, however, even if you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to a Katatonia album yet you’re in for a real treat here. Oh, and the lyrics, need I even comment? Dead End Kings explores a lot of aftermath: those cold hours, days and months after something detrimental has happened, seeing things from a dead end perspective (no pun intended), and pondering where and how to go from there. It’s great stuff.
All right, I could easily say more but I don’t like reading incredibly long reviews, so I am going to take my own reading habits and apply them accordingly here to writing. I obviously adore this album and recommend it highly to anyone with a taste for detailed, dark and melancholic music – there’s a universal appeal in Katatonia’s music that’s certainly meant for more than the underground metal crowd. Do yourself a favor and absorb this masterpiece into the ichor of your being any way you can – you won’t regret it, I promise. One of 2012’s best!
Andrew Senkus’ Rating: 4.5 out of 5