Slamming in like a bull in the proverbial emporium of fragile goods, ‘Forsaker’ is heavier than Katatonia have sounded in many a year, but without eschewing any of the haunting melody that singer Jonas Renkse brings to the mix. This is ‘The great cold distance’ taken to the next level and then some, with raging torrents of sound offset by fluid guitar playing that nears David Gilmour’s levels of greatness in this astonishing opening track. In just four minutes, ‘Forsaker’ sums up everything that is great about Katatonia with power and finesse and a soaring sense of purpose that is a joy to behold. ‘The longest year’ comes next, a traditional Katatonia moment with electronic drums, multi-tracked vocals and a scintillating guitar line in the background. It recalls the mighty ‘Soil’s song’ without being in any sense derivative of that defining moment in the band’s history. The electronic elements in this album are more obvious here than in previous outings, but just when you think you’ve gotten a grip on the track the guitars rage in, to create a pounding soundscape that perfectly counterpoints the beauty of the vocal melody. ‘Idle blood’ is next up and it is a gentler, more melodic moment than the previous two tracks, opening on an acoustic guitar and keys, which creates a suitably haunting introduction before the track kicks in sounding closer to Porcupine Tree’s carefully sculpted progressive pop than to the Katatonia of old. Not that this is a bad thing – Katatonia have always emphasised power over brute force, and on this track in particular, the vocal harmonies are perfectly constructed and delivered with clarity and emotion in equal measure.
Having got over an opening triplet of such power you’d be forgiven for imagining that the quality might dip somewhat, but here the band press ever forward with ‘onward into battle’ which is less antagonistic than its name would imply, and relies instead upon complex drums and a shimmering guitar sound backed up by strings that creates a lush musical backdrop for the mournful vocal. It’s a powerful song with a chorus that truly befits the much over-used term ‘epic’. ‘Liberation’ kicks in through the fading chords of the previous song with a stuttering guitar riff of extraordinary power, before dropping off to the barest of structures giving the vocals ample space to shine. ‘The promise of deceit’ is one of the best tracks on the album, featuring an evil bass line and atmospheric keyboards under the throbbing guitar. It’s a fascinating and ambitious track that shows the depth of song writing of which Katatonia are now capable.
‘Nephelim’ slows the album down to a My Dying Bride-esque crawl, but coupled with the progressive sensibilities of Opeth (think something of Damnation) and a layer of production that allows each instrument the clarity to express itself perfectly. It’s yet another masterful track from a band who seem to have struck creative gold on an album that shimmers with perfection. ‘New night’ features some of the oddest sounds featured on an album outside of Portishead, and a muted guitar line that builds tension despite it’s apparent simplicity. ‘Inheritance’ begins on a quasi-orchestral note, before Jonas’ haunting voice comes in, demonstrating what is, perhaps, his finest vocal performance to date – haunting and achingly sad and yet with a tunefulness that sits comfortably with a synth part that’s straight out of Pink Floyd. It’s an amazing track, emotional and beautiful, and it is one of the many highlights of this remarkable album. After such a melancholy track ‘Day and then the shade’ comes thundering in from a great height, with a chunky rhythm guitar part that then gives way to a suitably reverb-drenched lead in the verse.
All too swiftly the final track arrives in the form of ‘Departer’, a brooding, hulking monster that brings the album to a close in suitably grand style. It’s an astonishingly beautiful track that never overshadows what has gone before thanks to a strict quality control that has ensured that every track is a bona-fide classic. Co-produced, engineered and mixed by David Castillo the album is both clear and strong with every instrument afforded the depth and clarity they deserve while never allowing Jonas’ voice (surely their strongest asset) to get lost in the mix. Put simply, ‘night is the new day’ is a staggering achievement in terms of production, song-writing and even art work. It towers over much of the opposition with scant regard for what is in vogue and, in doing so, they have made a timeless masterpiece which will undoubtedly still be revered for years hence. Katatonia have never been a disappointing band, but here they are light years ahead of their previous works. Stunning on every level.
‘Night is the new day’ is out through Peaceville records Nov 2nd.
Katatonia play Hellfire festival on Sunday November 8th (see seperate post for details)