Friday, August 04, 2006

Katatonia – The Great Cold Distance review…

Katatonia has been consistently one of my favorite bands since I picked up 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down shortly after it was released in the United States. To me, they were a breath of fresh air, a heavy band that was not metal, was heavier than typical hard rock, and a band that was about as emotionally charged as it got, without any whining or pretentiousness whatsoever. They felt raw; they felt real. People have compared them to a slew of bands ranging from The Cure to Tool, yet these Swedish gentlemen are in a league of their own. Having originated from the same Swedish melodic death metal scene that spawned their friends in Opeth, Katatonia’s current output is still definitely rooted in metal, yet it provides so much more.

Katatonia has managed to do what many metal bands have tried and failed—-change their sound completely, only to find more success in doing so. The band’s initial doomy death metal style was not bad, per se, it was just not terribly unique, either. After damaging his vocal chords before the Brave Murder Day sessions, singer Jonas Renske gravitated towards using more clean vocals, yet that album still had its share of death growls (provided by Opeth crooner Mikael Akerfeldt). Musically, however, the band was no longer typical doom-metal by any means. They adopted more traditional 4/4 heavy rock beats, and songs like “Murder” were almost rock n’ roll at times. When Discouraged Ones followed up Brave Murder Day, the music was not tremendously different aside from the now-exclusive clean vocals. All death metal elements were dropped from the band’s sound, and this was where they began to find themselves.

Katatonia remain as adventurous as ever on their latest album The Great Cold Distance. While not much of a departure from the previous effort, 2003’s Viva Emptiness, this release is much heavier overall, in both a musical and emotional sense. Some of the songs explode from the speakers with ferocity not heard since the Brave Murder Day-era, (opening track “Leaders,” for example, with its death-metal-like screams following the choruses), while others are clean and melodic with an underlying sense of emotional heaviness (“My Twin” may be the closest thing to a true love song the band has ever written, and the juxtaposition between lyrical darkness and musical light is nothing short of brilliant).

Those disappointed by the more straight-forward nature of Viva Emptiness will have a much greater appreciation for The Great Cold Distance, by far a much more musically adventurous effort. The dynamics found in the middle section of “The Itch,” for example, with its off-kilter rhythms and keyboard-esque guitar lines are far more “outside the box” than any of the more traditional compositions found on Viva Emptiness. Closing track, “Journey Through Pressure” has a fuzzy, droning quality, with distorted, barely-audible vocals fading in and out as the song progresses, further examples of Katatonia reaching outside their “normal” parameters, and somehow it all works perfectly.

I’ve often heard fans say that it’s a crime that Katatonia are not a mainstream success story in rock and roll, and many blame that on the band’s ties to the metal scene and its death metal background. The truth is that Katatonia would not be the band they are right now if it were not for their metal roots, and for the respect they earned by experimenting while still retaining quality, and continuing to improve with every release. Their popularity within the metal scene shows that not all metal-heads are close-minded fools that want only the fastest, most brutal music that can be. As we further enter the age of homogenized heavy metal, thanks in part to MTV2’s Headbangers Ball and multiple package tours featuring endless numbers of faceless hardcore/metalcore/emocore/ironycore crap bands, it’s good to have a band that goes against the grain of what is cool and makes music for the only people that really matter: the members of the band.

Katatonia aren’t the coolest band on the block, and they don’t give a shit. New-schoolers might not find a band like Katatonia heavy, but new-schoolers don’t know what heaviness truly is. Heaviness is not an album produced by Adam Dutkeweicz with perfectly triggered drums and perfectly doubled guitar tracks and perfectly pro-tooled screams and perfectly in-key emo-vocals. Heaviness is about emotion and feeling. The Great Cold Distance is not a metal album, and thank god for that. It is, however, one of the heaviest (and best) albums of the year. Finally they’re touring the US this fall with Moonspell, and I for one cannot wait. If you want to hear emotionally charged, metal-influenced heavy innovative rock that can be compared to the melodic parts of Opeth mixed with Tool’s rhythmic sensibilities and the melodic tendencies of The Cure (but still ends up sounding completely unique), do yourself a favor and pick up The Great Cold Distance.

Second annual Tourney for Tim / Rocking for Roberts events...

  • A Lasting Legacy - In Memory of Timothy Patrick Roberts

  • For those of you reading this that don't know me that well, I'll give some context to the above article. Tim Roberts was one of my best friends from my junior year of high school up until his tragic passing in August of 2005. The above link will take you to an article written by another friend of Tim's and myself, Dan Tomasello, that was published in today's edition of the North Andover Citizen in regards to two benefit fundraisers we are holding in Tim's memory. If you want to know more about Tim's story, or want more information on the fundraising events and what you can do to help, please check out the website above.

    (NOTE: The Tourney for Tim portion of the fundraiser has been moved until August 26th, place to be announced. The Rocking for Roberts event will still take place as scheduled and mentioned in the article.)