Dead End Kings
27 August 2012
by Tom Dare
There aren’t many bands 20 years into their career producing their very best work, but Katatonia’s creativity curve has been consistently on the rise for the last decade. Their previous album, Night Is The New Day, was widely hailed as their career-best, despite their move in more melodic, less metallic directions. Three years on, they’ve changed subtly directions again with ninth album Dead End Kings, and it’s probably not what you might think.
For all the (deserved) praise for Night Is The New Day, it was fairly marked how strongly it was spoken about as being An Album, rather than a collection of songs. Night Is The New Day demanded you sat down and listened to all the way through if you planned to get the most out of it, as it was the ebb and flow, the cumulative effect and the moody progression that made it so stunning, not individual songs.
Why is that relevant to Dead End Kings? Because the tunes are back. That brilliant emotional journey of the more subtle approach of NITND is still there in huge force, but sprinkled in are songs you’ll put the album on specifically to listen to. Tracks like the sumptuous vocal duet of ‘The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here’ and ‘The Racing Heart’ might slide by effortlessly, caressing and depressing you in equal measure, but in amidst these more texture-focused songs, Dead End Kings has more obvious highlights.
Opener ‘The Parting’ is a prime case, and a classic example of latter-day Katatonia’s emotional power. It’s heavy (DEK decidedly ups the doomy metal from last time out, while arguably going even further into “rock” territories at times) and Jonas Renske’s warm yet bleak voice floats around you like mist, and subtly hooks you in with some genuinely catchy melodies.
There are some subtle and surprising moments later on that hint at proggier leanings, with the manner the rhythms of the excellent ‘Buildings’ soar over the guitars coming straight out of the prog canon. But it’s the album closer, ‘Dead Letters’, that provide the album’s finest – and most unexpected – moment. Pounding, almost Tool-like heavy riffage opens up before dissolving into wandering, off-kilter acoustic guitars, and then drifting clean electric leads with subtle symphonics take over before a jazzy solo opens the dark clouds up to reveal the sun. It’s an initially baffling but immediately brilliant piece of work that is entirely new.
The individual moments are brilliant but, once again, it’s the net effect that makes Dead End Kings so fantastic. The shifts between gorgeous gentleness and heavy beauty, between and within light and shade, and the layers of harmony being weaved together are an altogether winning combination. If Night Is The New Day was a gentle opus of self-reflection, this is a more pro-active exploration of the gloom, complete with the more frighting aspects that inherently comes with. With Dead End Kings, Katatonia prove once more that no-one can match them for dark, moody beauty. They’ve created a textured dream of a record that lives up to the exceptional standards they have set for themselves.
Sounds like: Swallow The Sun, Insomnium, quiet misery.
Standout tracks: The Parting, The Racing Heart, Dead Letters.