Saturday, 27 March 2010

Katatonia - Night Is The New Day (2009) 82/100.

‘Night Is The New Day’ was an unforeseen surprise for many reasons. Listening to the introduction to ‘Forsaker’, I always feel that the opening and main riff for the entire song, which sees the band use a fair amount of stuttering repetition, is very metallic. This record signifies to me that Katatonia have totally lost their metal edge and definitely remember their roots going back to the old doom laden days and darker atmospheric tendencies on ‘Discouraged Ones’. Having just seen Katatonia live last month in London, I have developed more of an appreciation for this record, as it took me some time to get used to the idea that they were going to be somewhat metallic in approach, alternative and perhaps slightly avant-gardé. According to most people who have managed to catch the Swedes live more than once, they normally take a few songs to get going and are quite slow to draw a positive response from the crowd, despite the wealth of experience on the shoulders of the musicians but, having witnessed them in London recently, most people at the gig, if not all, would agree that the line-up changes which have recently sent shockwaves through the band and their fans have had a positive affect on their performances in a live setting.

Although Per Eriksson and Niklas Sandin are only session members, performing on tour with the band, there is a feeling that Katatonia were in desperate need of a change. Although we’re used to hearing a change in sound, from one record to another, the band seemingly required a line-up change to give them the boost they needed to perform well in front of an avid audience who were lapping up everything the band had to offer, particularly the performance of ‘Omerta’, which saw the jubilant crowd sing along to the upbeat lyrics. I mention the live performance because, obviously, the line-up change will affect future releases. Maybe this is the end of what we have come to know as the modern Katatonia with records like ‘Night Is The New Day’ and a wind of change which will alter the entire progression of the band. Initially, after listening to this record on repeat in preparation for the live performance, I felt that something needed to be done that would alter the way Katatonia approached a full-length studio release. In terms of the approach on this record, it’s pretty much the same as the previous one’s in recent times.

The occasional song, like ‘Idle Blood’, takes on a more open approach, rather than the close fisted aggressor that the introduction to ‘Forsaker’ becomes. The vocals for the former can also be akin to that of ‘Viva Emptiness’, taking the melodious style to similar levels, though never overtaking what Katatonia achieved on that monumental piece. The backing vocals which occur on this song are fine, though not exactly necessary. I felt the same in a live setting, too. Jonas is more than capable at leading the front line alone and I didn’t think the backing vocals were essential as they don’t add much to the performance. They’re very softly spoken, though on other tracks they’re much more hard hitting, thus filtering into the background without showcasing much emotion or value. Vocally, the record is as Katatonia have always been. The vocals remain clean and Jonas remains able to dictate the listeners emotions with his traumatic lyrical themes and expression of loss, regret and self-exploration as things around us begin to collapse and our worlds alter drastically. ‘Onward Into Battle’ is a particularly rousing number when it comes to the vocals and instrumentation. In a live setting, once again, this song proved to be epic.

The instrumentation was often majestic with the bass remaining audible over the smooth production. The previous record, ‘The Great Cold Distance’, seemed to be trapped between being the aggressor and remaining passive. This record however, manages to switch between several different stylistic approaches with less fuss given the fantastic production qualities with songs like ‘Onward Into Battle’ having amazing choruses which stir a magnitude of emotions within the listener given their emotional readiness. For songs like this, Katatonia have even adopted a symphonic sound (performed by a session musician), though this is never overbearing. It occurs beneath the rest of the instrumentation and vocals, but definitely adds a new dimension to the style of the song and indeed the band as a whole. The song writing has been somewhat changed, though not completely overhauled. The metallic additions, as well as the symphonic touches are a nice, unpredictable part of the new sound, but this record isn’t without its occasional run-in with mediocrity, as songs like ‘Nephilim’ show. Though this song contains the aforementioned qualities, the direction seems lackadaisical and the vocals far too lazy to rouse the listener up from his or her feet in order to give a rapturous round of applause. Regardless of how average this song is, the rest of the record is simply a continuation of the well worked Katatonia experimentation.

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