I’ve been a fan of Swedish metal band Katatonia for a long, long time. Ever since blasting Viva Emptiness many years ago, I’ve made sure to pay attention to their work, imbibing pretty much everything they’ve released. I’ve watched as they’ve moved from vicious metal to progressive art rock, all while never letting even an ounce of their creative wonder slip to the side. Truly, each release has been as consistent as the previous, the band meticulously crafting works of musical wonder.
Today sees the band continue that trend with their new album The Fall of Hearts. A collection of 12 new tracks, Katatonia prove once again that they are one of the most consistent and fascinating forces in both the metal and overall music world.
The album opens with “Takeover”, which shows that there is still an eeriness and melancholy to the music but it is mixed with a hopeful beauty that I haven’t heard from Katatonia before. Then the song builds up to a riff that is stellar while drums produce an almost primal tribal energy. In its 7-minute span, it takes the listener on a journey of aching beauty and aggressive attacks. A perfect opener, it confirms that Katatonia know how to effortlessly blend metal with beauty, showing that there can be wonder in anything.
“Serein” features an energy and enthusiasm that I haven’t heard from Katatonia in a while. It’s almost an exaltation, the energy is so palpable. It also features some fantastic and unexpected yet perfectly appropriate key changes. “Old Heart Falls” feels like a mix of something from Dead End Kings and Dethroned & Uncrowned. It features all the instruments but there is a strangely intimate and unplugged feel to the performance. Gorgeously produced, this is more reminiscent of what we’ve been hearing over the past few albums and it’s just as powerful.
Opening with an almost folk intro, “Decima” has the melancholy we associate Katatonia with. It’s strangely comforting and, as I listened to it, I felt like I was wrapping myself in a warm blanket while watching a snowy evening billow outside my windows. Both “Sanction” and the final track “Passer” open with almost shockingly aggressive metal, the latter all the more so.
But it might be “The Night Subscriber” that takes the place of my favorite song on the album. It’s the kind of music that bands wish they could write and would consider the masterpiece of their career. The opening is simply magnificent, the ever-so-slightly overdriven guitars almost chiming like a pure bell while a piano floats a soft melody overtop before strings take over.
The songwriting on The Fall of Hearts is absolutely impeccable. Each song feels like unbelievable amounts of time has been devoted to every note, every measure. Vocalist Jonas Renkse sounds confident and creates some gorgeous melodies and harmonizations. Meanwhile, new members Roger Öjersson and Daniel Moilanen, guitarist and drummer respectively, clearly bring a great deal to the band, pushing the music in new directions and adding flairs and embellishments that elevate the music to new levels.
I spoke a little bit about how the album feels a bit more “hopeful” than previous efforts. Just by looking at their artwork, I can see this change in their approach. The Great Cold Distance featured a person cradling their head in their hands. Soaked in red, it reflected pain and sadness. Next came Night is the New Day, which featured a stone statue bearing within her a burning city as she herself is covered in nature, as though humanity had fallen and was but a memory of the past. After that was Dead End Kings, which brought a lot of white to the cover but showed a bird skeleton coughing out blackness, almost like a plague. But with The Fall of Hearts, the bird on the cover is intact. And even though it flies above a barren wasteland, the fact that it’s alive (at least, this is something I choose to believe) gives me hope, a hope that comes across in their music.
Fans of Katatonia’s previous works should not take this to mean that the normally morose band has suddenly become something out of the teletubbies. No, they’ve simply let the dark skies part here and there to let some crepuscular rays shine through. It is these brief moments that show the band has no issue evolving and they’ll do it in whatever way feels natural and appropriate.
The Final Word: With The Fall of Hearts, Katatonia seem to have let a little light into their world and it’s magnificent. If they have found joy, then I rejoice alongside them.